Thais launch campaign to repeal royal defamation law

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BANGKOK (AP) – Pro-democracy activists in Thailand on Sunday announced a campaign to collect 1 million signatures to support the abolition of the law that makes defamation of the monarchy a crime.

About 3,000 people have gathered in central Bangkok for a rally calling for an end to the lese majesty law – also known as Article 112 – which makes even constructive criticism of the royal institution risky. They also called for charges to be dropped and for the release of those arrested under the law.

The law makes defamation, insult or threat against the king, queen, heir apparent, heir apparent or regent liable to three to fifteen years in prison. In practice, critics say, it has been used for political purposes. Even advocating the abolition of the law can trigger a police investigation.

Last year, organizers of the rally began staging street protests with three main demands: the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who initially came to power as army commander by staging a coup State in 2014; amendment of the constitution to make it more democratic; and reform of the monarchy to make it more responsible.

The latest request was the most sweeping and controversial as the monarchy has rarely been the subject of public scrutiny and is seen by many as an untouchable pillar of Thai identity. Its reputation is fiercely guarded by the country’s ruling elite, including the military.

The leaders of the movement who organized Sunday’s rally have been major targets of Article 112, with several facing multiple charges of violating it. Some are released on bail while others remain in jail pending trial.

Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, one of the leaders of the demonstration, read a letter to the crowd from one of his imprisoned colleagues calling for the gathering of 1 million signatures to be presented to Parliament in favor of the repeal of Article 112. L Jailed activist Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak has been charged in 21 cases, the protest group said.

Organizers later said they collected 3,000 signatures at the rally.

“There are many political concerns that need to be addressed bluntly,” Panusaya “Rung” Sitthijirawattanakul, another leader of the protest, told the crowd.

“Those who speak out, however, face charges and detentions under Article 112 of the Thai Penal Code. They are high school students, university students, lawyers, artists, politicians, nurses, salespeople and many others whose flaws are their dreams for a better future, a better society, ”she said. .

After her speech, she carved the numbers “112” into her forearm, causing blood to flow.

The movement ran out of steam earlier this year due to arrests of its leaders, COVID-19 restrictions and controversy over its view of the monarchy.

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