12 to face lese majeste charges

Symbolic: Hairbands adorned with little rubber ducks, which have become a popular pro-democracy symbol among Thai protesters, being displayed for sale in Bangkok. — AFP

Police have issued summons to 12 pro-democracy protest leaders over charges relating to Section 112, according to a news source at the Royal Thai Police headquarters.

Section 112 of the Criminal Code states that “whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, will be punished with imprisonment of three to 15 years”.

Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak reportedly faces the most charges of eight.

Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul is facing six charges, while Panupong “Mike” Jadnok and Arnon Nampa face four charges.

Patsaravalee “Mind” Tanakitvibulpon faces three charges while Chanin Wongsri is seeing two charges.

Meanwhile, Juthathip Sirikhan, Piyarat Jongthep, Thatthep Ruangprapaikijseree, Atthaphol Buaphat, Chukiat Saengwong and Sombat Thongyoi face one charge each.

The source also said investigation officers had requested arrest warrants from the court but were denied these due to the suspects being public figures with permanent residences, so they opted to issue summons instead.

“The police are working on summoning an additional three to five protest leaders under Section 112 charges, ” the source added.

News of the charges comes as Bangkok girded for another rally as the students push their demands that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha and his government step down, the constitution be amended to make it more democratic, and the monarchy be reformed to be made more accountable.

The 12 protest leaders will answer charges of lese majeste, defaming or insulting key members of the royal family.

The law is controversial, because anyone – not just royals or authorities – can lodge a complaint, so it had in the past been used as a weapon in political vendettas.

But it has not been employed for the past three years, after King Maha Vajiralongkorn informed the government that he did not wish to see its use.

The king has not publicly commented on the law since then.

Many in the student-led protest movement believe the monarchy holds too much power for a constitutional monarchy.

But their challenge is fiercely opposed by royalists, who consider the royal institution an untouchable bedrock of national identity.

The protest movement late Tuesday night announced a change of venue for their latest rally, which was to put a focus on the monarchy. It had earlier announced that it would be held outside the offices of the Crown Property Bureau, which manages the vast fortune controlled by the king.

The target was switched to the head office of the Siam Commercial Bank, a publicly-held company in which the king is the biggest shareholder.

The bank’s headquarters are in a different area of Bangkok, far from the district hosting the Crown Property Bureau and other royal and government offices.

The protest movement announced the change of venue was to avoid a confrontation with police and royalist counter demonstrators, which they said they feared could trigger a declaration of martial law or a coup by the military. — AP/The Nation/ANN

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