Thailand protest: Demonstrators defy court order against rallies on royal reform

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Demonstrators in Thailand defied a court ruling as they gathered on Sunday to continue their push for reform of the country’s monarchy.

The protest came just days after Thailand’s Constitutional Court ruling intended to put a stop to calls for royal reform as it deemed three prominent protest leaders guilty of violating the Constitution through speeches and actions that the court said were aimed at toppling the royal institution.

“Say no to absolute monarchy,” shouted hundreds of protesters, alleging that the ruling was an attempt to reinstate absolute monarchy, which ended in 1932 for Thailand.

Tensions rose when protesters started marching from the Pathum Wan intersection in downtown Bangkok towards the German Embassy to submit a petition.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn was reported to have recently returned to Germany, where he has spent most of his time in the last few decades. His extended stays in the southern German state of Bavaria had earlier been scrutinised by protesters.

“We came here to ask for our human rights to demonstrate and protest in a country that calls itself democratic. It is not normal for a constitutional court to decide that criticism is treason,” said one protester outside the embassy in Sathorn Road.

Riot police and water cannon trucks were seen at multiple points in the city as small skirmishes broke out between demonstrators and law enforcement. The latter fired rubber bullets.

Despite the court’s ruling, Sunday’s gathering was a clear indication of the movement’s intention to press on with its message.

The court had ruled that protest leaders Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul, Arnon Nampa and Panupong “Mike” Jadnok had violated the Constitution that bans any move to overthrow the monarchy, through speeches last year that touched on royal reform and abolishing the lese majeste law.

Panusaya, who is the only one out on bail, has denied having intentions to overthrow the royal institution. “I am only asking for reform,” she said shortly after the verdict.

Protesters on Sunday accused the court of attempting to bring back absolute monarchy, and called for the end of the lese majeste law and the release of all activists detained by police.

“Reform, not abolition,” chanted the protesters, who had changed their protest venue an hour before it started in an attempt to avoid multiple barricades and shipping containers set up near the Democracy Monument, where they had originally planned to gather.

The lese majesty law that prohibits insult or defamation of the monarchy has been brought to the fore in recent weeks after political parties spoke about reviewing the law.

Since the youth-led protests began last year, at least 155 people have been charged with lese majeste.

The court’s ruling has also brought about legal uncertainties and fears that it could pave the way for prosecutions under harsher laws that include treason, which carries the death penalty in Thailand. (Source: The Straits Times)

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