Royal insult law repeal draws over 100,000 supporters

Royal insult law repeal draws over 100,000 supporters

Campaigners want an end to the use of Section 112 by governments to intimidate critics

People fill out forms in support of a bill aimed at repealing Section 112 of the Criminal Code during a rally by Ratsadon protesters at the Ratchaprasong intersection in Bangkok on Oct 31. (Photo by Apichart Jinakul)
People fill out forms in support of a bill aimed at repealing Section 112 of the Criminal Code during a rally by Ratsadon protesters at the Ratchaprasong intersection in Bangkok on Oct 31. (Photo by Apichart Jinakul)

More than 120,000 people have signed up to submit a bill calling for the repeal of the royal defamation law to Parliament.

Launched on Oct 31 during a rally at the Ratchaprasong intersection in Bangkok, the “Time’s up 112” campaign attracted 3,760 signatures in favour of scrapping the law. The existing defamation law in the Criminal Code offers ample protection to anyone, royal or otherwise, who believes they have been wronged, proponents of the change argue.

The campaign was moved online on Friday to a website created by the Progressive Movement and the Ratspace group.

As of 3.30pm Saturday, 121,744 people had signed in support of the bill. To qualify, one needs to be a voter (at least 18 years old). The form requires a full name, ID number, birthdate, address and telephone number, as well as email for receiving news about the campaign. A supporter must also upload an image of his or her signature.

The one-section bill is to be presented by a group led by activists Parit Chiwarak and Anon Nampa, both of whom have been detained for more than 80 days on several counts of the offence.

Under Section 133 of the current constitution, a bill can be proposed to Parliament if it has the support of at least 10,000 people whose identities can be verified.

According to the two-page draft of the bill available at the website, Section 112 of the Criminal Code has been used by the government to suppress dissidents and has become a major obstacle to freedom of expression, discussions of Thailand’s history and current situation, as well as efforts to jointly map the country’s future.

The law also calls for punishments — three to 15 years in prison — viewed as disproportionate to the crime. And because it falls under the national security chapter, a complaint can be filed by anyone and police are obliged to investigate it.

To ensure checks and accountability of the tax-funded institution, the bill proposes that the lese majeste law be repealed.

The bill notes that like all people, the institution and royals will still be protected under the defamation and libel laws (Section 326 and 393).

Repeal would also be in line with human rights principles and international conventions that Thailand has ratified, according to the draft.

Despite the quick response the campaign has drawn, not everyone was impressed by it.

On Friday, Suvit Thongprasert, formerly the yellow-shirted ultraroyalist Buddha Isara, submitted a list of 222,928 names to the secretary to the House speaker.

These people oppose any change to all laws involving the monarchy, including Section 112.

Mr Suvit said the institution was the pillar of the nation and had done much good for Thais for a long time. It is the bedrock of arts, culture and traditions of the people, he added.

Details on how the signatures were gathered for his campaign were not known.

Section 112 has long been the target of criticism among liberals. Its place in the security chapter means anyone can charge anyone with an offence, turning it into a weapon to destroy opponents or parties to personal conflicts unrelated to the monarchy.

Its penalties of 3-15 years per count — the same as those for rebel plotters or manslaughter — leave the courts with little wiggle room. They cannot hand down a prison term of less than three years no matter how trivial the crime is. By comparison, libel is punishable by a one-year jail term or a fine not more than 20,000 baht.

The law also has no exemption for honest criticism such as during academic discussions.

Controversy over the law has been heightened over the past few decades as it has been used frequently to intimidate critics of governments, who try to draw legitimacy from the institution, especially in the aftermath of military coups.

In the latest rounds of youth-led protests over the past two years, more than 140 people have been charged with lese majeste and some remain in pre-trial detention since courts refused to grant them bail, citing the severity of the punishments as one of the reasons.

Meanwhile, politicians are divided on whether the law should be changed.

Notably, none of them has gone so far as suggesting Section 112 should be repealed. Constitutionally, a party could face dissolution for trying to topple democracy with the king as head of state.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha made clear on Thursday that his government would not change the law. “This government runs the country by adhering to the principles of the nation, religion and the monarchy,” he said.

Right-wing coalition parties — Palang Pracharath, Democrat, Bhumjaithai, Action Coalition for Thailand and microparties — share the view that the law should not be touched.

Among the opposition, Move Forward, the most progressive party, supports amending the problematic parts of the law.

Pheu Thai, the largest opposition party, aims squarely at the “enforcement” of the law and not its content. However, it has said it was willing to support moves by other groups to change the law.

Seri Ruam Thai disagrees with repeal but supports changes of some details and penalties under the law.

Other parties outside Parliament also have split views.

Thai Pakdee led by ultraroyalist Warong Dechgitvigrom opposes changes. In fact, it supports stricter enforcement of Section 112.

The Kla Party, led by former Democrat heavyweight Korn Chatikavanij, also disagrees with any change.

The newly founded Ruam Thai United party, meanwhile, has urged that a referendum be held on the section. 

  • Commentary: Section 112 must change with the times

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