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Children in the firing line in repressive Thailand

Six Thais under 18 face lengthy jail sentences after being charged with insulting the monarchy

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

Published: May 28, 2021 04:01 AM GMT

Updated: May 28, 2021 04:08 AM GMT

Children in the firing line in repressive Thailand

Student Union of Thailand spokesperson Panusaya 'Rung' Sithijirawattanakul speaks from a truck as pro-democracy protesters march towards Government House during a rally in Bangkok on Oct. 14, 2020. (Photo: AFP)

Thanakorn Phiraban, a 17-year-old student, could be jailed for 15 years after being indicted on a charge of insulting Thailand’s monarchy.

According to the indictment on May 24, Thanakorn violated Article 112 of the Criminal Code because of the content of his speech at a student-led pro-democracy rally last December in Bangkok.

Several young protesters spoke at the rally to call for democratic reforms including new constitutional limits on the country’s influential monarchy.

Five other Thais under the age of 18 have recently been charged with lese majeste, or royal defamation, in addition to dozens of other people, many of whom are university students in their early 20s.

A leading human rights group has called on the Thai government to stop prosecuting children for royal defamation, a crime punishable by three to 15 years in prison per count.

“Thai authorities should immediately and unconditionally drop insulting the monarchy and other politically motivated charges against children who peacefully express their opinions,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement on May 27.

By punishing outspoken children with lese majeste charges, the Thai authorities are seeking to intimidate peaceful critics

The Southeast Asian nation is ruled by a conservative establishment dominated by the powerful military.

“By punishing outspoken children with lese majeste charges, the Thai authorities are seeking to intimidate peaceful critics by demonstrating that they will all be harshly punished regardless of their age,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“These senseless, rights-abusing charges should immediately be dropped against Thanakorn and all others peacefully expressing their views.”

In all, at least 82 Thais are facing lese majeste charges, in addition to other charges such as sedition, for participating in youth-led democracy rallies last year or voicing their opinions of the ruling conservative establishment on social media.  

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At least 41 children have been charged with various crimes for speaking up at youth-led rallies during the latter half of last year where most of the participants were high school and university students who called for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former army chief who seized power in a coup in May 2014.

The ongoing legal cases and other forms of harassment against young Thais for simply voicing their opinions in public about the country’s political situation constitute a severe violation of their rights, such as their freedoms of speech, assembly and conscience, according to rights groups.

“The government’s actions violate Thailand’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which ensures children’s rights to participate in peaceful protests and to express their opinions,” Adams noted.

“Thai authorities should not be suppressing the voices of Thailand’s children expressing their views and demanding democratic reforms. Instead of responding to children’s appeals with prosecutions, the authorities should listen to their views and protect their rights to express their opinions without fear or intimidation.”

In December last year, after a teenager was charged with lese majeste, the United Nations Human Rights Committee also expressed concerns about Thai authorities’ use of the draconian royal defamation law to stamp out political dissent among young Thais.

“We are deeply troubled by the move by Thai authorities to charge at least 35 protesters in recent weeks, including a 16-year old student protester, under Article 112 — the lese majeste provision of Thailand’s criminal code,” the UN body said. 

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