Thai activist arrested for burning king's portrait

BANGKOK (Reuters) - An anti-government activist accused of burning a portrait of Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn was arrested on Wednesday police said, the latest among dozens of people charged in recent months for insulting the monarchy.

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Musician Chaiamorn “Ammy” Kaewwiboonpan, 32, admitted after his arrest that he had torched the king’s portrait as a gesture of defiance and to vent frustration at the detention of fellow activists awaiting trial for royal insult.

Chaiamorn is charged under a strict lese majeste law that carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison if found guilty, as well as arson and computer crimes.

The incident took place on Sunday in front of a Bangkok prison where four members of a youth-led protest movement are being held over remarks about the royal family made at rallies last year.

“The burning of the royal portrait was done by me and I am solely responsible, the movement is not involved,” Chaiamorn wrote on his band’s Facebook page, a post his lawyer confirmed was authentic.

Chaiamorn said his action was foolish and had landed him in trouble and he was frustrated at being unable to help the detained activists.

Bangkok police chief Pakapong Pongpetra said there were witnesses and forensic evidence linking him to the offence and others may have been involved.

Chaiamorn was receiving medical treatment for an injury unrelated to his arrest, police said. His lawyer said a bail request was rejected by the court.

Months of youth-led demonstrations against the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha last year also broke traditional taboos by calling for reform of the powerful monarchy.

At least 61 people have subsequently been charged with lese majeste, according to legal aid group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

The portrait burning took place hours before protesters marched on a military base to urge the king to give up direct control over army units transferred to him in 2019 by the government of Prayuth, a former military chief.

Police used rubber bullets against the protesters for the first time on Sunday, as well as tear gas and water cannon.

Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Martin Petty