BANGKOK, Aug 4 – Some Thai anti-government protesters demanded reforms to the monarchy and the strict lese majeste law in unusually frank comments at a demonstration on Monday.
The law has played an important part in Thailand’s recent politics.
WHAT IS THAILAND’S LESE MAJESTE LAW?
The Thai monarchy is protected by Section 112 of the country’s Penal Code, which says whoever defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir-apparent or the regent shall be punished with imprisonment of three to 15 years.
The law against royal insults has been present in Thai criminal codes since early 1900s, when Thailand was known as Siam.
WHY DOES IT EXIST?
The king is described in Thailand’s constitution as “enthroned in a position of revered worship”. Thai royalist traditionalists see the monarchy as a sacred institution.
The monarchy has deep roots in Thailand, where kings held absolute power for hundreds of years before a 1932 revolution.
Since then, Thailand has been a constitutional monarchy with the king as the head of state, although King Maha Vajiralongkorn retains a powerful and influential role.
HOW MANY HAVE BEEN PROSECUTED?
There were only occasional prosecutions before 2014, when current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha took power in a coup, according to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights group.
Many of those convicted at the time were pardoned by the current king’s late father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who was widely revered during a 70-year reign until his death in 2016.
But between the 2014 coup and early 2018, at least 98 lese majeste charges were filed, according to a legal database by Thai watchdog iLaw.
Human rights groups said many of those cases were used to persecute opponents to the military government, an allegation the junta denied. Among prosecutions was one for defaming the late king’s pet dog.
HOW IS IT USED NOW?
The most recent royal insult case was prosecuted in March 2018 against two men tried for burning pictures of the king, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.
A local court dropped the royal insult charge but found the two guilty of being part of a criminal organisation and arson.
In June, Prayuth said the law was no longer being applied because of “His Majesty’s mercy”. The Royal Palace has never commented on this.
Rights groups say opponents of the government have recently been charged under other laws such as those against sedition and computer crimes.
The government has said it does not target opponents and that it is the responsibility of police to uphold the law. (Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Nick Macfie)