Thai court denies bail of student charged for mocking king with crop top protest


A Bangkok court has denied student activist Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul bail and ordered her detention in relation to charges under Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code, also known as lese majesty law, for her participation in a peaceful protest.

The Bangkok South Criminal Court justified its decision by stating that Ms. Panusaya had previously committed similar offences and violated the conditions set by the court for her temporary release.

Authorities accused Ms. Panusaya and the other activists who called for the repeal of Article 112 of mocking King Maha Vajiralongkorn by wearing a crop top strolling at a shopping mall in Bangkok last year.

Four of the activists are in pre-trial detention over the outing, which royalists say was an insult to the monarchy.

The charges against them alleged they had tried to make others lose faith in the institution, and accused them of breaching Thailand’s lese majesty law, which can lead to a sentence of up to 15 years.

Ms. Panusaya is currently facing at least nine lese-majesty charges, and could face 135 years in prison, if tried and found guilty in all cases.

The king is known for owning poodles, and royalists consider the monarch as the “father” of the nation. But it was also their choice of attire that offended royalists – images of the Thai king wearing crop tops have previously appeared online and in European tabloids. The legal complaint does not directly comment on the veracity of such images.

“Initially, the young protesters thought Thai authorities would not accuse anybody of 112 for wearing crop tops,” said Panusaya’s lawyer Krisadang Nutcharut. “I am telling everyone now that they should be aware it might lead to an indictment.”

On Saturday, a small group of protesters gathered in central Bangkok wearing crop tops to show support for those detained.

“We want to show that wearing a crop top is not illegal. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression,” said a speaker at the gathering. The numbers 112, crossed out with a line, were written on her stomach.

The lese majesty law was revived in November 2020 as the authorities sought to crack down on a youth-led protest movement that has called for reform of the monarchy. Initially, bail was offered, but the majority of protest leaders are now in prison.

The number of cases filed against protesters has also escalated to record levels, adds Krisadang, of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR). Panusaya faces nine lese majesty cases (up to 135 years in prison); fellow student protester Parit Chiwarak, known as Penguin, who is also in pre-trial detention, faces the highest number, with 22 cases (330 years).

More than 150 people are facing lese-majesty complaints. The alleged offences range from wearing fancy dress that are said to mock the royals, to making speeches calling for reform, or posting perceived criticisms of the monarchy on social media. Twelve children are among those facing charges.

It was the filing of a lese majesty case against a minor who had worn a crop top to a demonstration last year that prompted Panusaya and fellow activists to hold their shopping mall protest – called the #LetsWearCropTops parade.

The minor, who was 16 at the time, was accused of lese-majesty for attending a protest wearing a crop top, and displaying a message on their back that said their father’s name was not Vajiralongkorn. .

Panusaya – along with activists Parit, Benja Apan, Panupong Jadnok, and Phawat Hiranphon – wore crop tops to show support for the teenager.

The Thai government recently defended the lese-majesty law, after UN member states expressed concern about the sharp rise in cases. It argued the law protects the royal family and national security.

Earlier this month, the constitutional court ruled that protesters’ calls for reform of the monarchy amounted to an attempt to overthrow it, a decision that human rights groups fear could lead to charges of treason against activists. (Source: The Guardian)