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From left, Panupong Jadnok, Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul and Parit Chiwarak are among the 12 protest leaders to have received a police summons, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. Photo: AP

Thailand protests: police dust off royal defamation law to charge pro-democracy activist leaders

  • In the first use of the draconian law for almost three years, 12 pro-democracy activists could now face 15 years in prison for criticising the Thai monarchy
  • Among them is human rights lawyer Anon Numpha, Panupong ‘Mike’ Jaadnok and prominent student leader Panusaya ‘Rung’ Sithijirawattanakul
Twelve pro-democracy protest leaders have been summoned by Thailand’s police to answer charges of royal defamation, the first use of the draconian law in almost three years, as Bangkok gears up for another major rally.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha last week gave the green light for authorities to lay lese majeste charges, which bar any criticism of the royal family, against demonstrators who could now face up to 15 years in prison.

Thailand has for months been rocked by youth-led protests demanding a new constitution, reform of the untouchable monarchy, and for Prayuth to resign.

Protesters have called for Prayuth Chan-o-cha, Thailand’s prime minister and former junta leader, to resign. Photo: EPA
Tensions in the Thai capital are rising – officers deployed water cannon and tear gas at a rally outside parliament last week, with 55 people injured and six shot in scuffles with royalists. The source of the gunfire is under investigation.

Anti-royal graffiti was also daubed around police headquarters in central Bangkok, and demonstrators threw paint at the compound.

Thailand has one of the harshest royal defamation laws in the world. It is routinely interpreted to include any criticism of the monarchy – including content posted or shared on social media.


Thai protesters direct anger against police after violent clash near parliament

Thai protesters direct anger against police after violent clash near parliament

Under section 112 of Thailand’s penal code – which authorities have not invoked since early 2018 – anyone convicted of defaming, insulting or threatening the king, queen or heir faces between three and 15 years in prison on each count.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights says 12 protest leaders have received a summons – among them human rights lawyer Anon Numpha, Panupong “Mike” Jaadnok and prominent student leaders Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul and Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak.

“I’m not scared just one bit and I believe that by being sent the 112 summons, it will bring out more people to [Wednesday’s] rally,” Parit said. “Does this mean the monarchy has declared an all-out war with the people, is that right?”

Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida, centre, greet royalists after a public appearance on November 14. Photo: EPA

Protesters last week announced they would rally outside the headquarters of the Crown Property Bureau on Wednesday.

But overnight they flagged that they would switch the protest to the main office of the Siam Commercial Bank – in which King Maha Vajiralongkorn is a major shareholder – to avoid potential clashes with a rival ultra royalist rally.

Thai protesters take aim at King Vajiralongkorn’s royal purse

Soon after coming to power following his father’s death in 2016, the new king took control of the Crown Property Bureau which has assets in banks, companies and prime real estate.

The bureau’s board was previously headed by the finance minister in an arrangement that gave a sheen of public oversight to a trust some experts estimate is worth US$30-$60 billion.

The full assets are privately held and remain a closely guarded secret.