Updated: January 04, 2021 05:29 AM GMT
A pro-democracy protester gives the three-finger salute while taking part in a rally to denounce the use of the lese majeste law, under section 112 of the penal code, in Bangkok on December 10, 2020. (Photo: Jack Taylor / AFP)
Thai authorities have renewed the use of a draconian lese majeste law to stamp out criticisms of the country’s venerated monarchy, with at least 23 people charged in recent days for allegedly defaming the institution.The move is seen as part of an escalating clampdown by the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former army chief, in its bid to stifle the democratic aspirations of young protesters who have been staging anti-government mass rallies around Bangkok and elsewhere for months.Among those charged are numerous leaders of the student-led pro-democracy movement, called Free Youth, who have been calling for Prayut to resign almost seven years after he seized power in a military coup in May 2014 by ousting an elected government. The protest leaders, some of whom are still in school, are standing accused of having violated a law, Section 112 in the Criminal Code, which prohibits defamation of the king, queen, heir-apparent, or regent.They are accused of defaming the Thai monarchy, which is widely regarded as one of the richest monarchies in the world, by demanding constitutional limits on its political and financial influence.If convicted, the young democracy activists could be sentenced to decades in prison as the law prescribes up to 15 years in prison per charge, and some of the accused are facing up to seven separate charges.In response to the charges, student activists have called the use of the law against them a violation of their basic freedoms.“Using Article 112 makes freedom of expression non-existent,” said Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, who was first imprisoned on a lese majeste charge in 2016 and is now facing another charge. “There is no justice.”Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, one of the nine political activists charged on Dec. 8 alone, has pleaded innocence and pledged to fight the charges.“I did nothing wrong. I spoke the truth and will fight to the dead. I won’t run away,” Somyot told reporters before reporting to a police station to hear the charges against him.