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Thai protesters demand the abolition of royal defamation law

People took over the road that leads to Ratchaprasong Intersection. Photo and caption by Prachatai.

The original version of this article was published by Prachatai, an independent news site in Thailand, and was edited and republished by Global Voices under a content-sharing agreement.

A protest was held by the Ratsadon group at Bangkok's Ratchaprasong Intersection on October 31, 2021, to demand that the royal defamation law be abolished and those held for violating it be freed. Ratsadon has been organizing pro-democracy protests since 2020.

The march took place around 3 pm and concluded at 8:30 pm. Representatives of legal watchdog iLaw were at the scene collecting signatures for a petition demanding that parliament abolish Section 112 of the criminal code, which stipulates that anyone who defames, insults, or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent, or the Regent, will be punished.

At the event's opening, Pol Col Kritsana Pattanacharoen, deputy spokesperson of the Royal Thai Police Office, stated the protest violated both the emergency decree and the Contagious Disease Act. He added that police planned to monitor the event and collect evidence so that they could later bring charges against anyone breaking the law.

The protesters took turns presenting critiques of the royal defamation law.

Yingcheep Atchanont. Photo by Prachatai.

Yingcheep Atchanont, an iLaw spokesperson, noted growing frustration among media members, politicians, bureaucrats, and the public with a law that left them unable to talk about the impact of monarchy-related issues on their lives.

We believe that it would be better to have a concise law that lets people understand what can be said and what cannot, a law that leaves us confident that if what we said say is true, reasonable, and of benefit to the public and nation, we can speak freely and never be accused of wrongdoing.

We believe that it would be better if individuals who defame and damage others are tried under a just law by impartial court officers who decide cases on the basis of facts and law, irrespective of the political atmosphere,

We believe, when people are in fundamental disagreement over the country’s problems, that it is better to put everything on the table and talk. Let parties to the dispute put forward their arguments and debate the evidence. Let people everywhere listen and participate in deciding what to do.

We believe it would be better to live in a society where people are not imprisoned for simply expressing their political opinions, for demanding a better society, and for asserting that the people are the true owners of power in the country.

Supitcha Chailom. Photo by Prachatai.

Supitcha Chailom, a 19-year-old student activist, charged under Section 112, also gave a speech at Ratchaprasong Intersection. She said Section 112 is being used by the state to harass people and stoke fear among citizens to keep them from criticizing the monarchy and calling for reform. Since 2020, people have been charged for questioning the Kingdom's vaccination rollout, mocking the royal dog, and even reciting part of a poem.

The more you use [Section 112], the more likely it is that the thing you wanted to protect will come crumbling down.

Phromsorn Viradhammajari from Ratsadon Mutelu group also gave a speech, noting that although the monarchy is a state organization that receives a national budget, there is no public oversight of the appointed royal officers or royal projects.

He said feudalists have been using the monarchy and Section 112 to oppress people by claiming that those who rally for democratic reform are trying to uproot the royal institution.

Actually, we love the monarchy. If we didn’t love it, we wouldn’t want to reform it to be under the constitution. It is because we love it that [we] ask for reform. Because if it’s not reformed, there could be a revolution.

At the end of the protest, Panussaya Sitthijirawattanakul, a student activist from Thammasat University, read a statement from the Ratsadon group making two main demands: granting bail to all detained political activists and abolishing Section 112.

The ten demands to reform the monarchy proposed on 10 August 2020 were meant to fundamentally address political deadlocks in Thailand and raise questions about cults of personality. These demands were made to see Thailand become a constitutional monarchy, a characteristic of which is that the throne is under the law and subject to bona fide public scrutiny like any other institution in a democratic system…

We, the People’s Party (Khana Ratsadon) for the Repeal of #112, will work with all groups, all sectors, all organisations and all individuals in society to repeal the law and assure the right to bail for political prisoners. We have a dream that Thai society will be prosperous under a genuine democracy, under liberté, égalité, and fraternité.

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