One of Thailand’s most popular anti-establishment politicians has been charged for his role in an illegal flash mob protest last year, in a move that is likely to fuel the current wave of pro-democracy protests.
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, 41, a charismatic billionaire and founder of the dissolved Future Forward party, is accused of five public assembly violations linked to the rally in Bangkok's central shopping district last December, Krisadung Nutcharat, his lawyer, said on Thursday.
The charges include failing to notify police of a public gathering, blocking a sky train station, using a megaphone without permission and holding a rally close to a royal residence.
Four other people from his Progressive Movement Group and Move Forward Party face similar charges. All five deny any wrongdoing.
Mr Thanathorn has been an outspoken advocate of the protest movement that has gripped the Thai capital, Bangkok, since June, and he recently condemned a short-lived emergency order aimed at keeping demonstrators off the streets.
During last year’s elections, he and his pro-democracy Future Forward Party, proved to be enormously popular with young, first-time voters, and garnered the third-largest share of seats.
However, in February a court ruled the FFP had received a loan from Mr Thanathorn which was deemed a donation - making it illegal – and the party was forced to disband.
The verdict sparked widespread anger and disillusionment with the democratic process, paving the way for the current mass rallies, which have brought tens of thousands of protesters to the streets over the summer months.
What began as anti-government demonstrations after the disappearance of a Thai pro-democracy activist in Cambodia have now widened into calls for reforms of the monarchy, breaking a long-standing taboo, and risking long jail terms under the country’s strict lese majeste laws.
Protesters have become increasingly bolder in their criticisms of the monarchy.
On Thursday evening demonstrators openly criticised spending by King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s palace at a mock “fashion show” that parodied members of the royal family.
The show, which drew thousands of people, featured a red carpet parade lampooning the monarchy, and speakers denounced what they said was wasteful spending by the royal family at a time when Thailand’s tourism-reliant economy has been slammed by the global pandemic.