Police: Return of Lese Majeste Charges is ‘Inevitable’

Protesters hold up signs denouncing the use of Article 112 of the Criminal Codes, or royal defamation, at an anti-government rally on Nov. 25, 2020.

BANGKOK — A senior police officer said Wednesday the charges of royal defamation were filed against protest leaders based on their actions, and not as a retaliation against their activism.

Maj. Gen. Piya Tawichai, deputy Bangkok police chief, confirmed the return of the royal insult, also known as lese majeste, following months-long hiatus at a news conference. Piya said the suspects’ deeds and words force investigators to charge them with the offense.

“If one breaks the law, then so be it. The investigative officers cannot avoid it. Actions show one’s intention. Since they qualify for the law in this provision, we have to charge them with it,” Piya said. “It’s inevitable.”

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The police major general also said a “panel of experts” deliberated on the charges and approved their use against the suspects.

Media reports said up to 12 people were marked for prosecution with lese majeste, including key activist leaders like Parit Chiwarak, Panupong Jadnok, Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, Arnon Nampha, Piyarat Chongthep, and Passarawalee Thanakitvibulphol.

All of them were involved in undergoing campaigns to call for reforms of the monarchy. Although they insist they do not seek to overthrow the Royal Family, many pro-establishment politicians and their supporters routinely denounce the reformists as republicans in disguise.

They have yet to be formally charged as of publication time.

Lese majeste is punishable by up to 15 years in prison under Article 112 of the Criminal Codes, which bans insults or threats made to the King, the Queen, the Heir Apparent, and the Regent.

The law was also often used to silence any discussions of the monarchy, which were long considered as a taboo in Thai society, though recent protests in Thailand have boldly broken that ceiling.

In June, PM Prayut Chan-o-cha told reporters that His Majesty the King had requested the government not to pursue lese majeste charges against anyone out of royal clemency.

But just last week, PM Prayut said the authorities will now use “every law” in the book to crack down on the protests.

When asked by a reporter whether lese majeste is included, Gen. Prayut shot back, “Do you understand the meaning of every law?”

Parit the activist later confirmed that royal defamation is back in the play. He posted a photo of a summons warrant informing him that he was facing a charge of lese majeste. The warrant also instructed him to report to the police by Dec. 2.

The campaigner said he is unfazed by the move.

“To whoever that came up with the use of this law, let me say it right here that I am not really afraid,” Parit wrote online. The ceiling has collapsed. Nothing will be our limit anymore.”

Note: Some details were omitted from this article due to legal concerns.