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Thai royalist vigilantes accost democracy activists

Student is forced to apologize publicly for allegedly defaming the king with Facebook video clips

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

Published: May 25, 2021 03:29 AM GMT

Updated: May 25, 2021 03:54 AM GMT

Thai royalist vigilantes accost democracy activists

Royalists and officials visit a democracy activist's home in Phetchabun last week. (Photo: Free Phetchabun)

A female student was accosted late last week in her home by a group of hardline royalists and government officials who forced her to apologize publicly for allegedly defaming Thailand’s monarch, King Vajiralongkorn, according to democracy activists.

The unidentified student, who lives in the central Thai province of Phetchabun, is alleged to have posted video clips on Facebook about the country’s monarchy, which riled a group of royalists who were insulted by the content.

In response, hardline royalists teamed up with local officials to visit the student at her home and force her to apologize to a portrait of King Vajiralongkorn.

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The group posted a video online that shows the student apologizing to the monarch’s image with her hands clasped together in a respectful wai (bow).

The student was reportedly threatened by her accusers with a charge of royal defamation unless she agreed to show contrition in public.

Royal defamation, or lese majeste, is a crime in Thailand and carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison per count.

We want to use this space to warn you that your actions do not exalt in any way the institution that you have faith in or respect

In recent months more than 80 people, predominantly student activists, have been charged with lese majeste over statements they made during pro-democracy protests last year when many participants called for sweeping political reforms in Thailand, including new constitutional limits on the monarchy.

After the incident in Phetchabun, a group of democracy activists filed a report with police, accusing the people engaged in the public humiliation of the student of practicing vigilantism. They have also denounced the act on social media.

“We want to use this space to warn you that your actions do not exalt in any way the institution that you have faith in or respect, but completely destroy the main institution,” the activists wrote in a Facebook post addressing hardline royalists.

“We ask your group to stop actions like these for the sake of good relations between the people and the [royal] institution.” 

Last month another group of hardline royalists in the eastern province of Rayong showed up at a young man’s home and forced him to prostrate himself in front of a picture of Thailand’s king and members of the royal family.

He, too, was accused of posting content on social media criticizing the king.

An image, posted online by his accusers, shows the young man kneeling on grass beside the gate of a house with his head lowered to the ground in front of a photograph of the king as a group of people in uniform stand around him. The young man was made to apologize to the king and pledge an oath never to criticize him again, according to an online account.

Rights activists have repeatedly stressed that prosecuting Thais for criticizing the country’s monarchy or members of the royal family is a violation of basic rights such as freedom of speech and conscience.

This shocking case is yet another serious assault on Thailand’s vanishing space for freedom of expression

“Thailand is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which protects the right to freedom of expression under Article 19,” Amnesty International says.

“The UN Human Rights Committee, the treaty body responsible for interpreting the ICCPR, has stated that ‘imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty’ for defamation-related offences such as lese majeste.” 

In January, a middle-aged female food vendor was sentenced to 87 years in prison after she was found guilty of 29 counts of insulting the monarchy by posting several critical clips online in 2015.

“This shocking case is yet another serious assault on Thailand’s vanishing space for freedom of expression,” Yamini Mishra, director of Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific region, said in response to the verdict.

“Defamation should never incur a criminal conviction in the first place, let alone an extremely long jail sentence like [this].” 

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