Pro-democracy leaders summonsed to hear lese majeste charges

Pro-democracy leaders summonsed to hear lese majeste charges

Student-led pro-democracy protests are testing Thailand's royal defamation law, one of the harshest in the world. (Photo:AFP)
Student-led pro-democracy protests are testing Thailand's royal defamation law, one of the harshest in the world. (Photo:AFP)

Twelve pro-democracy protest leaders were summoned by police to answer charges of lese majeste, the first use of the draconian law in almost three years, as Bangkok prpapred for another major rally on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha last week gave authorities the green light to bring lese majeste charges against demonstrators. The charge, under Section 112 of the Crminal Code, carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.

The youth-led protests are demanding a new constitution, reform of the monarchy and Gen Prayut's resignation.

Response to the protests is ramping up. Police used water cannon and tear gas at a rally outside parliament last week, when 55 people were injured, six sufering gunshot wounds, in scuffles between protesters and rival royalists. Who fired the shots is still being investigated. 

Anti-royal graffiti was also daubed around police headquarters in central Bangkok, and demonstrators threw paint at the compound.

- Major rally -

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said 12 protest leaders have received a summons -- among them human rights lawyer Anon Numpha, Panupong "Mike" Jaadnok and prominent student leaders Panusaya "Rung" Sithijirawattanakul and Parit "Penguin" Chiwarak.

"I'm not scared just one bit and I believe that by being sent the 112 summons, it will bring out more people to (Wednesday's) rally," Parit told AFP.

"Does this mean the monarchy has declared an all-out war with the people, is that right?"

Protesters last week announced they would rally outside the headquarters of the Crown Property Bureau on Wednesday.

But overnight they flagged they would switch the protest to the main office of the Siam Commercial Bank, of which HM the King is a major shareholder, to avoid a potential clash with a rival ultra royalist rally.

Soon after coming to power following his father's death in 2016, the King took control of the Crown Property Bureau which has assets in banks, companies and prime real estate.

The bureau's board was previously headed by the finance minister in an arrangement that gave a sheen of public oversight to a trust some experts estimate is worth US$30-$60 billion.

The full assets are privately held and remain a closely guarded secret.

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