BANGKOK (Reuters) - A group of activists answered a police summons on Thursday over complaints that could see them jailed for up to 15 years for insulting Thailand’s king, as authorities increasingly use “lese majeste” laws against pro-democracy protest leaders.
At least 39 protesters have since November been hit with criminal lese majeste cases, according to a tally by the Thailand Lawyers for Human Rights, marking the resumption of the use of a law that had not been invoked since late 2018.
It coincides with pro-democracy protesters expanding their demands, from seeking the resignation of the military-backed government to calls for the curbing of King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s powers.
Patsaravalee “Mind” Tanakitvibulpon was among 13 activists who reported to police on Thursday, after being summoned under Article 112 of the country’s criminal code, which makes insulting or defaming the monarchy punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Patsaravalee, 25, told Reuters that police delayed sending the case to prosecutors pending a review of evidence. They remain free during the investigation.
Their cases relate to an Oct. 26 march to the German embassy in Bangkok when a letter was read asking Germany - where King Vajiralongkorn has spent much of the past year - to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by the monarch.
“The increased usage of article 112 by the government ... has reduced its sanctity and it is not as scary as before,” Patsaravalee said, adding that hitting protesters with lese majeste would only cause others to question the law.
Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said protesters had “stirred up hatred” with divisive proposals that contained inaccurate information.
Various laws were being used to ensure peace and order, not only Article 112, although its use was justified, he said.
“In the past, discussion on the monarchy may have been done on an individual level or in small seminars,” Anucha told Reuters.
“But this time it is being done at a large level that incites others and it reaches not only a few people but thousands through social media. This means the law needs to be enforced.”
The palace has said it will not address any questions about the protests.
The youth-led demonstrations have demolished Thailand’s decades-standing taboo on discussing the monarchy, and some have even called for Article 112 to be scrapped.
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said last June the king had told him not to use 112, but in November, Prayuth said all laws will be used against protesters.
Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Jiraporn Kuhakan, edited by Kay Johnson, Martin Petty
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