Largest Thai Party Seeks Changes to Law Forbidding Royal Insults
(Bloomberg) -- Thailand’s largest political party has called for amending the royal defamation law, a rare move in a country where insulting the monarch could lead to as many as 15 years in prison.
The opposition Pheu Thai party, which has the largest number of lawmakers in the lower house and is linked to exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, said in a statement late on Sunday that it would propose amendments to laws that “limit political opinions,” including those dealing with lese majeste and computer crimes.
The announcement followed a gathering by thousands of demonstrators on Sunday to demand the end of the royal insult law and the release of activists detained for criticizing the monarchy during youth-led protests that have persisted for more than a year. Since mid-2020 at least 100 people were charged with lese majeste, with the majority of cases stemming from online political comments and participation in the protests.
“The overwhelming use of these laws has caused damage to the people, and the public suspects that these actions aren’t in accordance with the rule of law and that officials performed their duties unlawfully with no respect to human rights,” said Chaikasem Nitisiri, a former justice minister who is now Pheu Thai’s head of strategy and political direction.
“The party is ready to bring the proposals to the parliament and examine the work of officials in the judicial system from police officers to prosecutors, courts, and corrections departments,” he said, adding that the amendments will include the revision of the unfair practices so there can longer be “prisoners of thought.”
Pheu Thai and other mainstream political parties had long resisted changing the lese majeste law, partly over fears that challenging the monarchy -- Thailand’s most powerful institution -- could give the military an excuse to seize power. But unprecedented student-led protests against King Maha Vajiralongkorn last year have changed the political dynamics in Thailand.
The protesters have sought less royal power, a more democratic constitution and the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha, a former army chief who staged a coup in 2014. While they haven’t succeeded in those goals, the demonstrations have undermined public support for the government and the monarchy.
In response to Pheu Thai’s statement, Deputy Premier Wissanu Krea-Ngam said on Monday that political parties can propose amendments to lese majeste like any other statute in the criminal code, but he noted the “sensitivity” of the law and any debate on whether to support or oppose the amendment. The royal office didn’t immediately respond to request for comments.
Pheu Thai is the second key pro-democracy party to join the call for amending lese majeste after Move Forward, a party popular among youth groups and protesters who have urged monarchy reform. Pheu Thai’s move comes amid speculation of an election, and shortly after it named Thaksin’s daughter Paetongtarn Shinawatra as its chief adviser of inclusion and innovation.
The Democrat Party, a key coalition partner of the royalist establishment-backed government, opposed any changes to the lese majeste law, saying on Monday that people “won’t support political parties with that kind of ideology.”
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