Political activists on Tuesday pressed the Pheu Thai Party to pledge that if it wins the coming election, it would repeal the law on royal defamation.
The meeting was inconclusive, but it comes at a time when three people detained under Section 112 of the Criminal Code, the lese majeste law, are staging hunger strikes, with two of them in hospital in serious condition.
Pheu Thai secretary-general Prasert Jantararuangtong said he encouraged public discussion of the way the law was being enforced as a means of addressing problems in the short term.
“There are many opinions and polarised views in society on the amendment of this law, which could lead to more conflict,” he told reporters after meeting with eight members of the Thalu Wang activist group.
His statement echoes a comment this week by fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who continues to strongly influence the country’s biggest opposition party, that the lese majeste law was not the problem but interpretation and enforcement was.
Under Section 112, anyone can file a complaint of lese majeste and the police are obligated to investigate it. Punishments are up to 15 years in prison for each perceived royal insult.
Ending the detention of lese majeste suspects awaiting trial has become a main cause of pro-democracy activists and the hunger strikers. Judges often refuse to grant bail, citing the seriousness of the charge, as reflected in the length of the maximum sentence.
A Chiang Rai man was sentenced last week to 28 years on multiple charges of royal defamation. That was the second-longest term handed down in modern times after a 43-year sentence in 2021.
Over the past two years, 228 people have been charged under lese majeste and 10 are currently in detention, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), which has represented many of those accused of royal insults.
“If the Pheu Thai Party want to win by a landslide, they need to revoke 112,” activist Somyot Prueksakasemsuk said ahead of the meeting.
All 16 governing coalition parties have vowed not to touch the law, while the ultra-royalist Thai Pakdee party has started a petition to make it even stricter. (Story continues below)
Tantawan Tuatulanon (right), 20, and Orawan Phuphong, 23, have been refusing food, water and most medical intervention since Jan 18 and are in Thammasat University Hospital. (Photo: Thai Lawyers for Human Rights)
Move Forward backs amendments
The opposition Move Forward Party supports amending the law, with shorter sentences and a provision that only the palace be allowed to file criminal complaints.
On Tuesday Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat submitted a letter to the Supreme Court, asking the courts to uphold the principle of proportionality and presumed innocence when considering bail applications by those facing charges in political cases.
Amarat Chokepamitkul, a Move Forward list-MP, on Monday joined hundreds of supporters of the Thalu Wang group who walked to present 6,514 names to the President of the Supreme Court in support of the hunger strikers’ demands.
Tantawan Tuatulanon, 20, and Orawan Phuphong, 23, have been refusing food, water and most medical intervention since Jan 18 and are in critical condition in Thammasat University Hospital. Sitthichok Sethasavet is in the 15th day of a hunger strike at Bangkok Remand Prison and has gone without water for the past six days.
The hunger strikers are demanding bail rights, the release of all political prisoners and the abolition of the lese majeste and sedition laws.
On Tuesday a lawyer visited Sitthichok, who is in the 15th day of a hunger strike and has gone without water for the past six days, according to TLHR. He was scheduled to be taken from the Bangkok Remand Prison to the Corrections Department Hospital for a physical examination and blood tests.
The lawyer said Sitthichok was experiencing abdominal pain but was able to sleep as he was given sleeping pills every night. He has lost nearly seven kilogrammes.
Sitthichok was found guilty on Jan 17 of defaming the royal family, arson, destruction of property and violation of the Emergency Decree. He was sentenced to two years and four months in prison. Sitthichok was found to have set fire to a portrait at a royal ceremonial arch in Bangkok during a protest on July 18, 2021. He has been detained pending an appeal.
Muscle wasting concern
A lawyer from TLHR visited Ms Tantawan and Ms Orawan on Monday and reported that they remained weak but lucid and alert. The two young women also met with five professors of medicine who persuaded them to take some water. However, they expressed concern about the patients’ high ketone levels because of muscle wasting brought on by the hunger strike.
TLHR quoted the medical team members as saying that the two women were committed to fasting to achieve their goals, but did not wish to end their lives. While they said they did not fear death, their ultimate goal was not to die but to continue living to fight for their main objectives.
Justice Minister Somsak Thepsutin visited the two young women in hospital on Tuesday and was visibly moved by what he saw. Addressing reporters afterward, he said he was saddened by the situation and that he would talk to the courts to see if there was a possible solution.
In another development, a global alliance of civil society groups issued a statement expressing concern about the hunger strikes and calling on authorities to “end unjust pre-trial detention”.
“The Thai government must guarantee a safe and enabling environment for individuals, including youth pro-democracy defenders, to exercise their fundamental freedoms in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the country is a party,” said a statement released by Civicus, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia), and the Asia Democracy Network (ADN).
“Therefore, our organisations urge the government to immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against activists exercising their freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and release them. The government must also end reprisals against activists and review and repeal all provisions and laws, that are used to stifle critics.”
According to THLR, as of the end of December at least 1,888 people were being prosecuted under vartious laws for political participation and expression since the first Free Youth movement rally on July 18, 2020. Of the total, at least 215 were facing charges of lese majeste and 128 were charged with sedition.
Sitthichok Sethasavet, who was convicted of lese majeste on Jan 17, is in the 15th day of a hunger strike at Bangkok Remand Prison and has gone without water for the past six days. (Photo: Thai Lawyers for Human Rights)