Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, a co-founder of Thailand’s disbanded opposition Future Forward Party, was charged in Bangkok on Thursday with sedition over alleged comments about the monarchy, the most serious in a litany of charges against the one-time prime ministerial hopeful.
Thanathorn, a leading figure in Thailand’s pro-democracy movement, turned himself in with fellow former FFP officials Piyabutr Saengkanokkul and Pannika Wanich at the Phayathai police station. Accompanied by their lawyer, the three were responding to a summons from an October complaint by ultra-royalist Suwit Thongprasert, formerly Monk Buddha Isara.
“If reconciliation is to be achieved, the first thing the government must do is to show its sincerity by stopping to press charges against the dissidents and pro-democracy protesters,” Thanathorn told reporters at the police station.
If convicted, sedition carries a maximum seven-year sentence, according to legal experts.
“The sedition charge was filed to harass and deprive our rights of expression,” said Piyabutr, the former FFP secretary-general who co-founded the Move Forward Movement after the party’s demise. “They mixed and matched unrelated matters to establish that we aroused the students to take to the streets, to call for monarchal reform and constituted sedition against us.”
A leader of street protests which helped overthrow then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014, Suwit accused the trio of inspiring young protesters against the establishment through articles, books, online lectures and seminars on the monarchy over the past 10 years.
“Suwit sees that academic addresses about the monarch, despite good intention, can be seditious,” Piyabutr said.
On Thursday, Suwit contended that the trio wrongly criticized the monarchy.
“You exercised your right to blame the monarchy as a trouble maker, I reserve my right to dub you as the root of the troubles,” Suwit said in a posting on his Facebook page.
“I follow the constitution’s Section 50 to protect the monarchy while respecting others’ rights and freedom while refraining from seditious acts. Piyabutr and companions were the ones who violated the constitution,” he said.
Thanathorn is no stranger to sedition charges.
After a seminar in September 2019, the Internal Security Operations Command for Region 4, the military command that oversees the Thai Deep South, lodged a complaint with police in Pattani province against Thanathorn and other prominent opposition leaders, politicians and academics. The complaint alleged that they discussed potential solutions for ending a decades-old separatist conflict in the border region that may favor secessionism.
That sedition case has not progressed, according to officials.
In January, the Constitutional Court ruled that the FFP was not plotting to overthrow the monarchy, saying there was no substantial evidence to support a separate sedition allegation.
Natthaporn Toprayoon, a former adviser of the Ombudsman’s Office had filed a petition in June 2019 seeking to disband the FFP. He accused the party of having links to the Illuminati – a secretive group of European elites plotting to overthrow governments, according to conspiracy theorists.
One month later, the Constitutional Court ordered FFP disbanded because of loans that Thanathorn made to the party to prepare for the 2019 election when it captured 81 seats, the third best total of any political party.
Since mid-July, university students and other activists have gathered for a series of massive pro-democracy protests across the nation. They have made three demands: that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, who led the military coup in 2014 to topple Yingluck in May 2014, step down; that the military-backed constitution be rewritten; and that the powers of the monarchy be reformed.
Prayuth recently called a two-day session of parliament to discuss the protesters’ concerns, MPs apparently agreed to amend the constitution but did not release any details.
Hours after the trio appeared at the police station, about 1,000 students from Mahidol University gathered west of Bangkok on Thursday to protest against government officials and MPs because they want all three their demands to be considered.
Meanwhile, protest leaders announced plans to stage another massive rally in Bangkok on Sunday and called on people to write letters to be submitted to King Maha Vajiralongkorn (Rama X).
The organizers could not be reached by BenarNews on Thursday to ask for additional information about the planned rally.
On Sunday night, as he was walking in a street near the Grand Palace after a temple ceremony, a British TV news reporter approached the king and asked him what he had to say to young Thai pro-democracy protesters who have been demanding reforms?
“I have no comment,” the king said in rare public comments, before repeating three times: “We love them all the same.”
Then, in a response to a follow-up question from the reporter, the monarch added, “Thailand is the land of compromise.”