Police in Thailand have arrested lawyer and activist Anon Nampa along with four other activists for their involvement in recent pro-democracy demonstrations that call for reform of the powerful monarchy.
They were charged for alleged offences including sedition and breach of coronavirus measures that banned public gatherings, unrelated to their demands.
Anon was among the speakers who have risked lengthy jail sentences by calling for changes to King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s role. Such public comments were, until recently, highly unusual, and shocked many in the country.
Thailand has some of the strictest lese-majesty (offending the monarchy) laws in the world, and anyone who “defames, insults or threatens the king, queen, heir apparent or regent” can face up to 15 years in jail.
Anon Nampa, a lawyer who first called for royal reform at a Harry Potter-themed protest, was arrested on Wednesday, the second time he had been arrested this month.
According to Human Rights Watch and Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, activists Baramee Chairat, Suwanna Tanlek and Korakot Saengyenphan have also been arrested, as has rapper Dechathorn Bamrungmuang, of the group Rap Against Dictatorship.
Charles Santiago, a Malaysian MP and chair of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, an association of members of parliament from south-east Asian nations, described the arrests as “hugely concerning”.
“Peacefully voicing your opinion in public is not a crime, and those participating in peaceful protests should not have to do so at the cost of their liberty,” he said.
Pro-democracy protests led by students have swept across the country, with rallies taking place on an almost daily basis for more than a month. Their three demands are: dissolve parliament, end the intimidation of activists and rewrite the constitution, which was written under military rule and has cemented the army’s power.
Some students have also called for reforms to curb the powers of the king over the constitution, the armed forces and the palace fortune – breaching a longstanding taboo.
Earlier this month, another pro-democracy activist, PanupongJadnok, and the prominent student protest leader ParitChiwarak, also known as Penguin, were arrested on separate occasions over pro-democracy rallies.
The recent arrests have been condemned by Human Rights Watch, which called on the Thai authorities to drop all charges and unconditionally release activists involved in peaceful protests.
“The Thai government’s repeated promises to listen to dissenting voices have proven meaningless as the crackdown on pro-democracy activists continues unabated,” said Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director.
“The authorities should right their wrong and immediately drop the charges and release Arnon and other detained activists.”
In addition to the arrests, the ministry of digital economy and society said on Wednesday that it would also file a complaint against exiled academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun for creating a Facebook group deemed critical of the monarchy.
The group, called Royalist Marketplace, has more than 1 million members. (Source: The Guardian)