The UN’s special rapporteur for freedom of assembly urged the government of Thailand to stop targeting pro-democracy protesters with draconian legal action and instead enter into a dialogue before the country risks sliding into violence.
The use of the country’s lese majeste law against dozens of protesters has alarmed UN expert Clément Voule, who has written to the government of Thailand after a 16-year old was charged.
“It is legitimate for people to start discussing where their country is going and what kind of future they want,” Voule said of the protests. “If this is not possible now I’m afraid the country will move towards violence that we do not want to see.”
“Stopping people from raising their legitimate concerns is not acceptable.”
So far, 37 people face charges of insulting the monarchy for alleged offences ranging from wearing traditional dress deemed to be a parody of the royals to giving speeches arguing that the power and wealth of the king should be curbed.
The lese-majesty law has not been used since 2018, apparently at the request of the monarch, but it has been revived after months of youth-led protests that have called for a more accountable royal family.
The law is notorious for its arbitrary use, sweeping defamation criteria and for the severe sentences that can be imposed on those found guilty.
Anyone who “defames, insults or threatens the king, queen, heir-apparent or regent” can face between three and 15 years on each charge.
Police and prosecutors are often reluctant to reject complaints filed under the law, say rights experts, because it is so politicised they fear being accused of disloyalty.
Earlier this month, a royalist group called on its supporters to begin reporting others, prompting fears of a witch-hunt.
Prominent protest leaders face an unusually high number of charges, including student activists Parit Chiwarak (12 charges) and Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul (six charges) and the human rights lawyer Anon Nampa (eight charges), who have given speeches calling for the power of the royals to be curbed.
According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, the following protesters are among dozens facing charges under lese-majesty:
Chiwarak, 22, also known as Penguin faces 12 lese-majesty charges, which could lead to up to 180 years in jail for making protest speeches and an open letter written to king Maha Vajiralongkorn calling for reform of the monarchy.
Jatuporn Sae Ung, 24, faces one charge, after she wore Thai traditional dress at a catwalk-themed protest, which was considered an attempt to parody the queen.
A 16-year-old protester is facing one charge, accused of attending a protest wearing a crop top with the words: “My father’s name is Mana. Not Vajiralongkorn” written on their back. The king has been photographed wearing crop tops abroad.
Inthira Charoenpura, 40, also know as Sai, a prominent actor who has donated food to protesters, faces one lese-majesty charge for allegedly mocking the king in a Facebook post which included the words “very brave”. The monarch recently praised as “very brave” a man who held up a royal portrait at an anti-establishment rally.
Protesters have received police summons over the lese-majesty cases but are not currently in detention. It is not clear if prosecutors will pursue charges. Police did not respond to requests for comment.
A government spokesperson said Thailand’s lese-majesty law was not aimed at curbing people’s rights to freedom of expression and that the law was similar to libel law. The government also supported the constructive exchange of viewpoints, the spokesperson said. (Source: The Guardian)