Thailand Protest

Hundreds of protesters marched from the Thai capital Bangkok’s Pathumwan intersection to the German embassy on Sunday to submit a petition in response to a recent court ruling which determined that calls for reform of the institution was akin to treason.

It was the largest protest the country has seen in months.
Media reports said:

The demonstrators gathered in response to last Wednesday’s constitutional court ruling that found three prominent activists guilty of attempting to overthrow the royal institution.

The court ruled that activists, Arnon Nampa, Panupong “Mike” Jadnok and Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul had committed treason in speeches they gave last year.

As protesters began moved through the city, small-scale clashes occurred at the various police blockades set up to hinder their movements.

Small explosions were heard by Thai Enquirer journalists covering the event. Some witnesses told Thai Enquirer that they believed the Thalugaz, a fringe group of disenfranchised young men, were behind the firecrackers and “ping pong bombs.”

There were also reports of gunfire in the area with police using rubber bullets on the demonstrators.

One man was seriously injured with a shot to the chest. The wounded man was taken to a nearby hospital by volunteers and medics.

Prominent activist and doctor, Tosaporn Sererak, was one of the first to respond to the shooting.
“The bullet went through his lung, now he is at Chula Hospital,” Dr. Tosaporn told Thai Enquier. “It’s not okay that the government has used this level of violence on its own people.”

He added that the wound was significant. He says the round entered the man’s lung and liver and that paramedics had to insert a tube into his chest to keep him breathing.

Dr. Tosaporn feels it is very possible the round likely came from the police.

Thai police have not taken responsibility for the injury only that an investigation was underway.
Rights groups say that an independent inquiry must be made into the shootings.

“The Thai government and the Royal Thai Police should be clear that its rules on the use of force by law enforcement comply with international human rights standards and are strictly followed at all times. Nothing justifies giving a blank check to the police to use violence with impunity.”

Sunai said that at least two people were confirmed to be shot.

No Absolute Monarchy

An earlier report said:

At least three people have been injured as demonstrators marched through Bangkok on Sunday to protest a recent Constitutional Court ruling branding calls to reform the monarchy unconstitutional.

Protesters flooded the streets in the city center carrying banners and placards that read: “No absolute monarchy” and “Reform is not abolition”. People took part in the massive march to protest what they described as a return to absolute monarchy under King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Country Belongs To The People

Some activists were seen spray-painting graffiti on the roads they were marching through. “This country belongs to the people,” one message read. The protest was sparked by the Thai Constitutional Court’s Wednesday decision de facto outlawing all calls to reform the institution of the monarchy.

It stated that calls for reform issued by three protest leaders in August 2020 were unconstitutional and tantamount to an attempt to overthrow the monarchy altogether. “We are not overthrowing this country.

Seizing Power From The People

The reform is to make it better,” one of the protest leaders, Thatchapong Kaedam, said on Sunday. “The Constitutional Court is seizing power from the people.”

Protesters also burned nine effigies of the Constitutional Court judges to express their dissatisfaction with the ruling.

The crowds initially planned to march towards the Democracy Monument in the city center but were blocked by the police. They then moved to the German Embassy where they read a statement drawing attention to the king’s frequent stays in the European country.

It said the king’s “increased powers are pulling Thailand away from democracy and back to absolute monarchy,” and that the demonstrators want to see the nation “ruled by a system in which everyone is equal.”

Police have been deployed to the city en masse in response to the protest. There have been several brief standoffs between law enforcement and the rally participants. At one point, the crowd broke through a police cordon. Another particularly tense moment saw a small, tightly packed police formation retreating from the crowd with several officers allegedly shooting rubber bullets point-blank at the crowd.

The demand to reform the monarchy is considered radical and controversial in Thailand, as the institution is considered sacrosanct. The nation also has lèse-majesté law, in which anyone found guilty of defaming the monarchy could face up to 15 years in jail. At least 157 people have been charged under this law since last year, when Thailand also saw massive protests, according to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights group.

The court said speeches made by the activists at mass protests last year were unconstitutional.

The ruling could pave the way for treason charges against the trio, who have all denied any wrongdoing.

Thailand’s lèse-majesté law, which forbids any insult to the monarchy, is among the strictest in the world.

In a ruling broadcast on television on Wednesday, justices at the constitutional court described the monarchy as “the key pillar that the kingdom cannot be without”.

“Any actions that seek to undermine or weaken the institution show intentions to overthrow the monarchy,” they said.

Last year’s mass anti-government protests in Thailand shattered a taboo on criticizing the monarchy, though protest leaders were careful to call for changes to the institution, not its abolition.

“If we allow the first, second and third defendant and their networks to keep doing this action, it will not be long to lead to the overthrow of the constitutional monarchy,” judge Chiranit Havanond said.

All three protesters have said they have no desire to topple the monarchy.

Kritsadang Nutcharat, a lawyer for Mr Arnon and Mr Panupong, warned that the constitutional court ruling “could impact [on] future calls for reform”.

A Royal Law

David Hopkins writes in The Interpreter (https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/thailand-s-regressive-royal-insult-law, Thailand’s regressive royal insult law, 15 Nov 2021)

At a recent anti-government rally in central Bangkok, one of the leaders of a youth-led movement demanding sweeping political reforms carried a message etched in blood. After addressing the crowd on a rainy Sunday evening on 31 October, Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul used a razor blade to carve the digits 112 into her forearm, struck through by a diagonal cut.

It was a startling image – not just for the blood, but for what it represented: another defiant act questioning the powerful role of the monarchy in Thailand and the repressive laws, ideals and institutions that uphold it.

The number refers to Thailand’s punitive lèse majesté law (Section 112 of the Criminal Code) that makes it a crime to defame, insult or threaten members of the royal family. The law, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years’ prison for each offence, has been liberally used by the junta-turned-government to target activists such as Rung and other perceived critics, from politicians to pensioners. Many are facing decades-long sentences.

At great personal risk, student activists are calling for the lèse majesté law to be abolished, along with other reforms to the monarchy, shattering a long-held taboo against even anodyne discussions of the king. Among their demands, widely circulated at the height of protests last year, are that the substantial royal assets, now under the personal remit of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, be brought under public control.

“It is time for the institution of the monarch to be spoken about openly, no matter who one is,” Rung stated in a speech last year. “It must be able to be spoken about like it is no big deal.”

In the wake of the 31 October protest, where activists gathered signatures in support of repealing the lèse majesté law, it seemed, for a brief moment, that substantive public debate on the law may be possible.

Pheu Thai, the country’s main opposition party, aligned to self-exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, issued a statement suggesting it was open to amendments. This prompted a flurry of responses from other political parties staking out their positions.

Unsurprisingly, the military-backed Palang Pracharath Party stands opposed to any changes, as do coalition partners the Democrat Party and the Bhumjaithai Party. The progressive Move Forward Party, which earlier this year proposed amendments to the law that would have curbed prison terms, continues to support change.

But illustrating the prevailing sensitivity around the debate, breached but not entirely broken by ongoing youth-led protests, Pheu Thai took a series of dizzying steps back, forward and sideways, stressing they were not initiating reform, then finally appearing to back an inquiry. Thaksin also muddied the waters, at first writing on social media that there was nothing wrong with the law, then suggesting that the penalty was too harsh.

The confused repositioning was perhaps reflective of conflicting views within the party and a general wariness ahead of a looming election due next year. Protesters on the streets had at least succeeded in forcing parties such as Pheu Thai to articulate a response, even if it was not the decisive stand they sought.

The lèse majesté law has remained a powerful tool for silencing debate. The definition of what constitutes criticism is loosely applied, anyone can file a complaint, and trials are often held in secret. The law has led to self-censorship, the banning of books, and the suppression of ideas and information. It has also been the conservative establishment’s method of choice for dispatching its enemies on even the most absurdly founded charges.

A wave of lèse majesté arrests and prosecutions followed the 2014 coup, but were halted in 2018, reportedly at the instruction of the king. But with anti-government protests hitting fever pitch last year, the law is being wielded with a vengeance once again.

Some 155 people were charged from 24 November 2020 to 3 November 2021, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR). Pro-democracy protest leaders have been systematically targeted, with many cases brought by royalist groups formed to police online expression. Earlier this year, a woman in her 60s was imprisoned for a record 43 years for posting audio clips deemed critical of the monarchy.

But while the law is supposed to shield the palace from criticism, it often only draws more attention to the extent of anti-monarchy sentiment. As documented by groups such as TLHR, recent charges have been laid against people for burning, defacing or removing portraits of the king. Several minors also face charges, including a 17-year-old for wearing a crop top that mimicked the monarch’s eccentric fashion.

Subtle acts of dissent – staying seated during the royal anthem, for example – continue to be reported. But royalists, who frame their defence of the lèse majesté law as a matter of national security, retain powerful backing. A recent constitutional court decision equated protesters’ calls for royal reform with an attempt to overthrow the institution, ruling that it violated the constitution.

This troubling verdict is a blow to the youth-led movement, whose open criticism of the king has been a seismic development in Thailand.

But even arch royalists must privately admit that the carefully cultivated image of the king as semi-divine and indispensable is a mask that is slipping.

Number Of Poor To Reach 15m Next Year

The number of the poor in Thailand is expected to increase to 15 million next year from the current level of almost 14 million because of the impact of the prolonged Covid-19 outbreak, said Thai Deputy Finance Minister Santi Promphat.

The ministry will open for a new round of registration for state welfare cards early next year and will revise the criteria of who are eligible to be cardholders.

Santi said the ministry expects the number of the poor who will be qualified for the cards will increase by 1-2 million in this new registration round.

Currently there are 13.65 million state welfare cardholders. The eligible card recipients must be Thais, aged 18 or above. Their annual income must not exceed 100,000 baht.

The existing cardholders will also be required to complete a registration in this latest round.

The ministry is determining additional criteria to screen people eligible to get the state welfare cards. Currently the criteria cover only their income and their ownership of certain assets, such as land plots.

The ministry might add another asset, such as a car, to the list. The ministry will work with other state agencies to examine their asset ownership. The new criteria will be proposed to the cabinet for approval.

Santi added that the ministry will also take into consideration the average household income of the prospective cardholders in this new registration round.

There is a case that in a household, a husband has high salary but his wife has no salary. This means the wife is qualified to get the card.

In this new registration round, if any family member has a household average income exceeding 100,000 baht per family member per year, that member will not be qualified to get the card.


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