BANGKOK — Leaders of protests calling for reform of the monarchy on Monday visited a police station to hear their charges on insulting His Majesty the King, which could land them in prison for up to 15 years.
The five activists were charged with Article 112 of the Criminal Codes, known more commonly as lese majeste, for allegedly defaming the king during their protest at Sanam Luang in September. The protest leaders denounced the return of lese majeste charges as a step backward for Thailand.
“The monarchy should be eligible for scrutiny and criticism,” activist Panupong Jadnok told reporters outside Chanasongkram Police Station. “Lord Buddha didn’t need this law, yet people still respect him to this day.”
Other protest leaders who reported themselves to the police today include Arnon Nampha, Parit Chiwarak, Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, and Patiwat Saraiyaem.
Parit said he believes the charges will only encourage more people to support the movement, which seeks to limit the monarchy’s influence in politics and abolish laws that censor discussions about the institution.
“People will feel there is no justice in our country,” Parit told reporters.
Panusaya also said her group only wants to reform the monarchy, and not abolish it, while Arnon said he will keep pursuing the pro-reform campaigns in spite of the serious charges.
The activists were reporting to the police as per a summons warrant, which accused them of slandering and threatening His Majesty the King throughout the protests over the weekend of Sept. 19 and 20. The rallies took place in Thammasat University and Sanam Luang, a large field close to the Grand Palace.
Police Col. Atthawit Saisueb, who observes today’s questioning, said all of the activists were set free without having to post any bail.
The move also confirmed media reports in recent weeks that police were preparing to charge leaders of the pro-reform demonstrations with lese majeste. PM Prayut Chan-o-cha said last week that the authorities would look into “every law” in the books to prosecute the protest leaders.
The Prime Minister said back in June that His Majesty the King had requested the government to refrain from charging monarchy critics with lese majeste. The law carries a penalty of three to 15 years’ imprisonment.
Arnon, Panusaya, Parit and other protest leaders believe that the monarch holds more power and influence than is appropriate under a constitutional monarchy. They have made that demand the centerpiece of their campaigning in recent weeks, along with calling for PM Prayut’s resignation and charter rewrites.