BANGKOK (AP) — Pro-democracy activists in Thailand on Sunday announced a campaign to gather 1 million signatures to support the abolition of the law that makes defaming the monarchy a crime.
About 3,000 people turned out in central Bangkok for a rally urging the end of the lese majeste law -- also known as Article 112 -- which makes even constructive criticism of the royal institution risky. They also called for dropping charges and releasing those arrested under the law.
The law makes defaming, insulting, or threatening the king, queen, heir apparent, heir presumptive, or regent punishable by three to 15 years in prison. In practice, critics say, it has been used for political purposes. Even advocating the law’s abolition can trigger a police investigation.
The rally organizers last year began holding street demonstrations with three core demands: the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who initially came to power as army commander by staging a coup in 2014; amendment of the constitution to make it more democratic; and reform of the monarchy to make it more accountable.
The last demand was the most radical and controversial because the monarchy has rarely faced any public scrutiny and is considered by many to be an untouchable pillar of Thai identity. Its reputation is fiercely guarded by the country’s ruling elite, including the military.
Leaders of the movement holding Sunday’s rally have been major targets of Article 112, with several facing multiple counts of violating it. Some are free on bail while others remain jailed awaiting trial.
Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, one of the protest leaders, read a letter to the crowd from one of his imprisoned colleagues calling for gathering 1 million signatures to present to Parliament in support of repealing Article 112. The imprisoned activist, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, has been charged in 21 cases, said the protest group.
Organizers later said they had gathered 3,000 signatures at the rally.
“There are many political concerns that must be addressed straightforwardly,” Panusaya “Rung” Sitthijirawattanakul, another protest leader, told the crowd.
“People who speak out, however, face charges and detentions under Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code. These are high school students, university students, lawyers, artists, politicians, nurses, vendors and many others whose faults are their dreams for a better future, better society," she said.
After her speech, she carved the digits “112” into her forearm, drawing blood.
The movement lost steam early this year due to its leaders’ arrests, COVID-19 restrictions and the controversy over its view of the monarchy.