Thailand: Hundreds rally to demand protest leaders’ release


Defying a ban on gatherings, hundreds of Thai demonstrators gathered in the capital on Saturday evening, demanding that authorities release some protest leaders from jail.

“Release our friends,” shouted the protesters in unison, as they gathered in front of a criminal court, which was surrounded by barbed wire. A water cannon truck could be seen behind the gates of the court.

“Abolish 112,” they also said, referring to Thailand’s lese majeste law, or Article 112 in the Thai criminal code, which prohibits anyone from insulting or defaming the king.

A few protesters burned photographs of the king at the rally. Separate groups also led two other protests at other locations in Bangkok.

Since last year, a youth-led protest movement have sprang up calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former junta leader, and reform of the powerful monarchy.

The protests have quieted down at the beginning of the year due to the spike in coronavirus cases.

Thai courts have denied recent requests for bail for some of the jailed protest leaders under the country’s lese majeste law.

Earlier on Saturday, police warned protesters that they risked being arrested and that police might use harsher measures if protesters became unruly.

“Protests are illegal. Anyone who joins or invites others to join is breaking the law,” Piya Tavichai, deputy commissioner of Bangkok Metropolitan Police Bureau, told a news conference.

Police used rubber bullets for the first time last Sunday, as well as tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters. Ten protesters and 26 police were injured.

In a podcast on Saturday morning, the prime minister urged Thais to respect the law and avoid conflict.

“We have to love each other and be united, not divided, and respect the law,” said Prayut, who first came to power after leading a military coup in 2014.

The Royal Palace has declined to directly comment on the protests, but Prayuth and government officials have said that criticism of the king is unlawful and inappropriate. (Source: CNA)