A Thai court has sent back to prison four prominent democracy activists after they were indicted for violating the kingdom’s royal defamation law, the first formal charges laid against the leaders of a movement calling for reforms to the monarchy.
Parit Chiwarak, Arnon Nampa, Patiwat Saraiyam and Somyot Pruksakasemsuk face charges of lese majeste and 10 other offences, including sedition, over a Sept. 19 protest near Bangkok’s royal palace.
The four are accused of having broken traditional taboos by criticising King Maha Vajiralongkorn, risking prosecution under Article 112 of the criminal code.
Thailand’s lese-majeste law, or Article 112 of the criminal code, is the most draconian of its kind in the world where defendants could face up to 15 years in jail per offense.
Youth led protest have erupted in Thailand in recent months, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and his cabinet, constitutional amendments with public consultation, and reform of the monarchy under the constitution.
At least 58 activists have been charged under those laws since last November, according to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights group, which represented the four defendants on Tuesday.
Parit also faces more such charges for his comments at a Nov 14 protest.
The four denied all charges, Krisadang Nutcharat, one of their lawyers, said.
“The court did not grant bail for the four citing that the offenses have high penalties and they have repeatedly reoffended,” Krisadang said.
The court could not be reached and typically does not comment on individual cases.
It came a day after United Nations human rights experts condemned Thailand’s rising number of lese majeste cases, including last month’s 43-year jail sentence, the harshest punishment yet, for an elderly woman.
Thailand had briefly stopped using the lese majeste law in 2018 but police started to invoke it again in November after protesters began openly criticising the monarchy.
Krisadang said the legal team would continue to request bail for the activists, who will be held at Bangkok Remand prison, with their trials set for March 15.
The main Thai protest group Ratsadon called for more demonstrations after the court decision.
“We will not accept the law that should not exist in a democratic country, like 112, to block our thoughts and freedom anymore,” it said in a statement on Facebook. (Source: The Straits Times)