Lawyer Questions Police Integrity as Lese Majeste Cases Rise to 56

Pro-democracy activist Chonthicha “Kate” Jangrew speaks to reporters on May 22, 2019.

BANGKOK — Pro-democracy activist Chonthicha “Kate” Jangrew became the latest person to be charged with defaming the monarchy – an offense that has seemingly turned into a political weapon against government critics.

Speaking on the phone Monday morning before reporting to the police, Chonticha urged the international community to keep up the pressure on the ongoing crackdown under Article 112 of the Criminal Codes, aka lese majeste. As many as 56 people are now charged under the offense in a spate of just three months, her attorney said.

“People around the world are watching the enforcement of Article 112,” the activist said. “The use of the law is embarrassing the Thai government even more. I’d like to invite the international community and organizations to keep a close watch on this matter.”

Chonticha, who led numerous protests against the government in 2020, predicted that more lese majeste complaints would be lodged in the near future against those calling for reforms of the monarchy.

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“The cases will just keep rising,” she said. “We also have to question the monarchy, why they let the case number increase.”

The activist said she received the police summons informing her that she was charged with Article 112 on Thursday, but the document did not specify what alleged wrongdoing she might have committed. Chonticha is one of the leaders behind the protest movement that sought to oust PM Prayut Chan-o-cha, draft a more democratic charter, and reform the royal institution.

Lese majeste bans threats or insults made toward the King, Queen, Regent, and Heir Apparent. Violators face up to 15 years in jail, per count.

But the head of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, a group that’s representing lese majeste suspects in court, said police appear to accept any royal defamation complaints against the dissidents regardless of the circumstances.

“We’ve seen that it’s a problem. The police accepted every complaint,” Yaowalak Anuphan said. “We have to question the police. The police claim that they receive the complaint, so they must proceed with it, [but] Article 112 is now a political weapon. It’s very sweeping.”

The attorney also warned such arbitrary and indiscriminate use of lese majeste will eventually erode the public trust in the law enforcement.

“Eventually, Article 112 will become a law without rules,” Yaowalak said.

Police spokesman Col. Kissana Phathanacharoen was not available to comment as of press time Monday.

The use of lese majeste was absent for several years, until it made a return in November, shortly after PM Prayut Chan-o-cha said the authorities would use every available law in the book to punish those accused of insulting His Majesty the King.

Some democracy advocates have been charged with multiple counts of lese majeste, which could land them in lengthy jail terms. For instance, Rayong-based activist Panupong “Mike” Jadnok will hear the seventh lese majeste charge pressed against him later today, his lawyer said.

In Lampang province, five people also reported themselves to police over lese majeste charges, the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights Group reports.