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Rights activists decry Thailand's 'lese majeste torture'

Authorities' treatment of prisoners of conscience amounts to institutionalized torture, it is claimed

Rights activists decry Thailand's 'lese majeste torture'

Criticizing King Maha Vajiralongkorn or other members of the Thai royal family is a crime punishable with up to 15 years in prison. (Photo: AFP)

Published: May 24, 2022 04:52 AM GMT

Updated: May 24, 2022 05:01 AM GMT

Rights advocates have described a Thai court’s decision to continue denying bail to several young women held on royal defamation charges as “torture.”

Late last week a criminal court denied bail to four young activists who have been advocating political reform, including reform of the monarchy, which is deemed to be untouchable and above all criticism by the ruling political establishment.

Among the 11 young detainees held on charges of royal defamation, also known as lese majeste, has been Tantawan Tuatulanon, a 20-year-old woman who has been on a hunger strike for more than a month in protest at the denial of bail to imprisoned activists awaiting trial.

She has been suffering from several health problems as a result of her hunger strike, including weight loss, fatigue and fainting spells, according to her lawyer.

Thai authorities’ treatment of prisoners of conscience like Tantawan amounts to institutionalized torture, rights advocates have argued.

“The judiciary and regime have cooperated to make the lives of those charged with lese majeste as difficult as possible. Indeed, so vicious has this been that we consider it amounts to lese majeste torture, with judges, prosecutors and jailers united in ‘protecting’ the monarchy,” said a statement on the website of Thai Political Prisoners.

“We know that speaking ill of the royal family is taboo, but we also know that if we can’t speak our minds about political issues, there will never be freedom, justice and democracy in Thailand"

“Political prisoners in Thailand are treated as ‘evil’ and not deserving of the bail that is usually provided to [alleged] murderers, rapists and torturers.” 

A large group of protesters on motorcycles and in cars last week staged a rally on the imprisoned activists’ behalf outside Bangkok Criminal Court, which had denied them bail.

The demonstrators also rallied outside Bangkok Remand Prison, where the detainees are held, to demand their release.

Almost all the detainees on royal defamation charges are Thais in their early 20s and several of them are women.

They have been charged with defaming the monarchy, a crime punishable with up to 15 years in prison per charge, for calling for democratic reform of the institution or criticizing members of the royal family, including King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Almost 200 Thais have been charged with royal defamation, many of them multiple times, since November 2020 in an apparent attempt by the military-dominated government, which seized power in a coup in May 2014, to suppress a youth-led pro-democracy movement.

Yet despite the draconian measures, many young Thais demanding a return to democracy continue resisting the establishment.

“We know that speaking ill of the royal family is taboo, but we also know that if we can’t speak our minds about political issues, there will never be freedom, justice and democracy in Thailand. So we’ll continue speaking out,” a young pro-democracy activist told UCA News.

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