BANGKOK — A woman was charged with royal defamation, or lese majeste, for allegedly mocking the monarchy by wearing a traditional Thai dress to a protest, her lawyer said Tuesday.
Pro-democracy activists slammed the move as yet another example of sweeping interpretation of the draconian law, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in jail. The woman, identified by her attorney as Jatuporn Sae Ung, was charged after she wore a pink silk dress and appeared on a parody “fashion catwalk” organized by protesters.
“It’s an interpretation and not the reality,” lawyer Yaowalak Anuphan said. “The lese majeste law has become politicized,”
Read: Activists Urge UN To Help Repeal Royal Defamation Laws
Jatuporn was one of the demonstrators who participated in the satirical fashion show held on Silom Road in late October.
Her appearance on the catwalk was greeted by the protesters who prostrated and chanted “Long live Your Majesty!” several times – a gesture seen by many as a mocking reference to Her Majesty the Queen.
Media reports said another person who showed up at the activists’ fashion show in a crop top was also charged with lese majeste. He was reportedly summoned to acknowledge the charge with Yannawa Police on Thursday.
Due to legal concerns, Khaosod English cannot elaborate on both cases.
At least 25 people have been charged over the past month under the lese majeste law, which made a return after a hiatus lasting for several years, according to Anon Chawalawan, a legal officer at iLaw, a law reform advocacy group.
Anon said very little is known about those cases until the accused parties report themselves in person to the police and hear why they were charged.
“The person could be accused of engaging in sarcasm. Could that be construed as defamation and damaging the honour of the Queen?” Anon said.
Although the text of lese majeste charge only covers “threats or insults” made to the King, the Queen, the Heir Apparent, and the Regent, the law is often expanded to include any action or remark deemed critical of the monarchy.
Lese majeste trials sometimes take place in secrecy, and the mainstream media are discouraged from reporting about the cases.
But at least one man is taking action against the law, which has been denounced as authoritarian by human rights watchdogs. Ekachai Hongkangwan, an activist who once served a prison term for lese majeste, petitioned the Office of the Attorney General on Monday urging them not to forward any royal insult cases to the court.
“At least half of the cases could be dropped,” said Ekachai. “The case about dressing up in costume was nonsense. Have they gone mad?”
The activist also suspected that the law enforcement might have been under pressure to press lese majeste charges by some higher powers.
“I think the police didn’t want to process it but were instructed to do so,” Ekachai said.
“This should not be an offense, dressing up in Thai traditional dress and having people chant ‘long live!’,”