BANGKOK (AP) — Thai pro-democracy protesters who last year broke a long-standing taboo by publicly criticizing the country’s monarchy returned to the streets Wednesday to defiantly repeat their calls for reform of the royal institution.
The rally in the middle of a Bangkok shopping district was called by the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, a faction of a broader protest movement that started last year and has three core demands: the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and his government, for the constitution to be amended to make it more democratic and the monarchy to be reformed to make it more accountable.
It is the latter demand that has rattled Thailand’s traditional establishment, which is fiercely opposed to change, especially with regard to the monarchy.
Several activists involved with the protests have already been jailed as they await trial on charges of violating Thailand's lese majeste law, which makes criticizing, insulting or defaming the king or other key royals punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment.
One of those facing charges, Patsaravalee Tanakitvibulpon, gave a fiery speech Wednesday from a small stage on which was hung a large black banner saying “Reform the Monarchy.” Her speech repeated sharp criticism of the monarchy touching on financial and political aspects.
The rally was held a day before prosecutors are to decide whether to accept sedition and lese majeste cases against Patsaravalee and 12 other protesters. Eight other protesters already were charged with lese majeste over the past month and are being held in pretrial detention without bail.
According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, a legal assistance group, at least 76 people, including six minors, have been charged with violating the lese majeste law since last November, when the government began cracking down on the protest movement.
Wednesday's rally ended peacefully, unlike several other protests this year that ended with violent confrontations with police. On Saturday police used water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets to break up a rally near Bangkok's Grand Palace, leaving more than 30 injured and at least 32 detained.