Thai democracy activists gathered at the UN’s Bangkok office on Thursday petitioning the world body to put pressure on the Thai government to repeal its lese majeste law and to drop such charges against several pro-democracy activists.
The activists demand the UN to pressure Thailand, one of its member states, and its government to comply with fundamental commitments for its citizens to have freedom of expression as it is a basis of human rights.
There are currently 23 protest leaders facing charges under the legislation for headlining demonstrations demanding reforms to the monarchy and more scrutiny of the royal family’s financial arrangements.
The kingdom’s lese majeste laws shield the wealthy King Maha Vajiralongkorn and the royal family from criticism, with anyone convicted facing between three to 15 years in prison.
Among the several dozen activists at the UN office was Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, 59, who previously spent seven years in jail on a lese majeste conviction for publishing satire of a fictitious royal family.
“This is not good for the image of the monarchy in Thailand,” he told reporters, adding that those with royal defamation convictions are treated “like animals” in prison.
Lese majeste crimes have been on the books for over a century in Thailand, but were last strengthened in 1976.
The use of the law has slowed since 2018 due to the “mercy” of the king, according to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, but last month the premier gave the green light to deploy it again after months of protests.
Protest leader Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, who has been charged under the law said he feared its use would create a greater political rift between the mostly young democracy activists and conservative backers of the monarchy.
“In a democratic system, there is no need for… legal attacks. We can have different opinions and live together.
Hundreds of protesters also rallied Thursday at a Bangkok memorial that commemorates the lives of pro-democracy supporters lost during a military massacre in 1973.
“Freedom of speech is everyone’s right,” Tuvanon, a 27-year-old flight attendant told AFP.
“When the king or the royal family spend the money – it’s actually our taxes. We can not (criticise) how they use our money.”
Prior to the rally, heavy containers and barbed-wire fences were deployed to block the bridge in front of the UN building.
Police also installed shipping containers stacked on top of each other and razor wire blockades to stop protesters from marching towards Government House, a royal palace and other sensitive sites.
Besides reforms to the monarchy, protesters are also demanding a rewrite of a military-scripted constitution and the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha – who came to power in a 2014 coup. (Source: CNA)