Thai prosecutors indict five over blocking of queen's motorcade

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Five Thai activists were indicted on Wednesday on charges of attempted violence against the queen during a pro-democracy demonstration last year, when a royal motorcade encountered dozens of protesters.

FILE PHOTO: Thailand's Queen Suthida is pictured as the motorcade drives towards the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand October 14, 2020. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Their lawyer Poonsuk Poonsukcharoen said prosecutors indicted the five under a section of the law that carries a minimum sentence of 16 years in prison for violence or attempted violence against the queen, heir-apparent or regent.

“I did not have such intentions, nor was I trying to do so. I’ve reaffirmed these facts over the past few months,” said one of the accused, Bunkueanun “Francis” Paothong, 21.

More serious breaches of the same law can result in life imprisonment, or a death sentence if an act is likely to endanger their life.

Others include Suranat Panprasert, 35, a coordinator for a youth group, Ekachai Hongkangwan, 45, and two others. All have denied the charges and are seeking bail.

The case centres on an encounter at the height of anti-government demonstrations last year when Queen Suthida’s convoy passed through a group of protesters on Oct. 14.

Video from the incident showed police pushing protesters away from the queen’s car.

The court granted the five bail without conditions, Poonsuk, said with the next hearing scheduled for April 26.

“I’m very grateful that the court granted us bail, but our fight has not stopped. We will have to fight these accusations,” Bunkueanun said.

Anti-government protesters that emerged last year demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and broke longstanding taboos by openly calling for reforms of the powerful monarchy.

The Royal Palace has not commented directly on the protests since they began last year.

There are currently 19 Thai youth activists in jail having been denied bail. They face a litany of charges, including sedition, while 12 of them are also charged with lese majeste, or insulting the monarchy, a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Martin Petty and Ed Davies