Thailand’s protest movement has entered a dangerous new phase

This is the first time the law has been applied in more than two years, signaling that authorities are increasingly frustrated with protests against the country’s military-backed government demanding reforms to the constitution created by the military and the huge monarchy.

Thailand’s royal family is protected from control by one of the world’s most severe defamation laws, which stipulates a maximum of 15 years in prison for the apparent criticism or insult of a king, queen or heir.

The five activists are human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa, who was among the first to publicly call for monarchy reform, and Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, who read out a 10-point list of demands for monarchy reform, and Parit Chiwarak, Panupong Jadnok and Patiwat Saraiya, their lawyer, Noraset Nanongtoom according to.

Noraset, a member of the Thai Lawyer for Human Rights, said in a Facebook post that five turned to the police after being called upon to be charged with violating the Supreme Law.

“The claim comes from expressing their opinion,” he said.

In addition, three other individuals – Tattep Ruangprakitseri, Patsaravalee Tanakitvibulpon and Jutathip Sirikhan – have also been summoned with majestic charges and are due to report to the police by 7 December.

The resurgence of the law comes as protesters marched into the army barracks on Sunday when they challenged King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s personal control over some army units. Protesters also gathered around the headquarters of Siam Commercial Bank in Bangkok last Wednesday to gather against the transfer of royal property to Vajiralongkorn’s personal wallet.

The protesters are demanding that the ruler be held accountable to the constitution, limit the king’s power, and demand transparency over his finances.

Outside the Chanasongkram police station, on Monday, prominent activist Parit said: “If the monarchy shows signs of listening to people, they would think the monarchy is open. But if the monarchy responds by using section 112 (lese majeste) to silence people ., it only shows the Thai and international community that the Thai monarchy is afraid of the truth. “

Democracy activists, Panupong "Microphone" Jadnok, Parit "Penguin" Chiwarak, Panusaya "Ladders" Sithijirawattanakul and Arnon Nampa at the Chanasongkrami Police Station in Bangkok on November 30, 2020.

The accusations of the majesty of Lese show a diminishing patience

Thailand’s democratic movement has become the biggest challenge to the country’s founding experience in decades. Protesters have been holding regular demonstrations for five months, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who seized power in a military coup in 2014, and the dissolution of Parliament and a change in the constitution that they believe has taken root. the strength of the military.

Despite recent calls to reform the monarchy, no majestic charges have been brought since March 2018. Prayut said in June that the law would no longer be applied at the king’s request.

But the protests became more violent. In mid-November, at least 55 people were injured, including several with live ammunition, when protesters, police and monarchy groups clashed in front of Parliament in street battles. Police used tear gas and water cannons with chemically stained water to disperse the protesters.
Assault police are guarding barbed wire and inflatable yellow ducks at an anti-government protest in the Thai capital.

Prayut then said the situation had not escalated and called on the government to “step up” measures and apply “all relevant laws” to protesters who break the law. The summoning of leading democracy activists indicates that the authorities have run out of patience for a protest movement that has not been postponed by arrests and intense police action.

“The re-enactment of the supreme laws signals the increased ‘legislature’ of the royal organization, manipulating all available legal instruments supported by a partial justice system to eliminate what is actually the younger Thai-led uprising.” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist and director at the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University.

“Their strategy is to use repressive laws as a straitjacket to tie protest leaders, thereby dismantling the protest movement for monarchy reform with a new constitution.”

In the past, lese majeste was increasingly used as a political tool, as ordinary Thai citizens – as well as the government – could bring charges on behalf of the king. There are now concerns as complaints against protesters become more frequent.

According to Thitinan, the law “may provide legal weapons to ultra-royalists to burden those who demand monarchy reform.”

Demonstrators use inflatable rubber ducks as shields to defend themselves from water cannons during an anti-government demonstration in front of the Bangkok Parliament on 17 November 2020.

The protesters are targeting King’s finances

On Sunday, protesters marched to the gates of the 11th Infantry Regiment, part of the Royal Guard, which played a role in suppressing anti-settlement protests in 2010.

He was accused of giving the monarchy legitimacy in exchange for his continued support of the monarchy. Since 1932, 13 successful military coups have taken place, most recently when the current prime minister and former army chief Prayut seized power in 2014.

In addition to consolidating power, the protesters examined the king’s financial behavior as the country struggled with the economic effects of the coronavirus epidemic.

In 2018, the Crown Property Act was amended to allow Vajiralongkorn to take direct control of the multi-billion dollar royal wealth traditionally held by the Thai crown, making it one of the richest rulers in the world.

Shares of various Thai conglomerates, including Siam Commercial Bank and Siam Cement Public Company, were named after the king. According to the Thai stock exchange, Vajiralongkorn is SCB’s largest shareholder, holding nearly 800 million shares at the current price of about $ 2.3 billion.

The protesters called for an investigation into the king’s financial measures and for greater transparency and public oversight of the royal budget.

Thailand’s unprecedented rebellion pits people against the king
The most recent protests took place almost two weeks after the Thai parliament rejected a proposal to amend the constitution that could have paved the way for monarchical reform. Instead, the Joint Chamber voted on the progress of two constitutional reform proposals that did not affect the changes in the monarchy.
Even though the king told CNN and Channel 4 that “Thailand is a land of compromises,” the authorities appear unwilling to do so. The protesters are now caught in legal ways to meet their demands.

Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch in Thailand, said reviving the least majesty is “a clear message that these issues will not be tolerated and there will be no compromise with the demands.”

“While pro-democracy protesters are breaking the long-standing taboo that forbids the Thai people from criticizing and challenging the monarchy, the state’s reactions are getting harsher, pushing the country more and more into upheaval,” he said.

Thai human rights lawyers reported that between July 18 and November 13, at least 175 people were prosecuted for participating in political protests. Many are subject to illegal assembly sanctions, but some protest leaders are charged with taking a maximum of seven years in prison.

Thitinan said the least majestic embankment is unlikely to take the wind out of the movement’s sails.

“The student-led protest movement is demonstrably horizontal, not easy to extinguish from above. So the protesters are likely to continue their frustration with Thailand’s outdated political system, which has steered the country towards economic stagnation,” he said.