Nine people have been arrested by Thai police in a sweeping search of activists participating in recent anti-government demonstrations. Among the nine includes a lawyer Anon Nampa, accusing of a speech in which he calls for monarchy reform. Under strict lese-majeste and other laws, Thailand’s monarchy shield from criticism. But students and other activists have taken to the streets in recent weeks, pressing for systemic changes.
Mr Anon, 36, was the first to publicly crack the tabou earlier this month, calling for change at a rally in Bangkok on a Harry Potter theme. Among others detained after Mr Anon were activists Baramee Chairat, Suwant to Tarnlek and Korakot Saengyenpanm, and a prominent rapper, Dechatorn Bamroongmuang of the Rap for Democracy party, who performed at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok during the July protest. Both charges with sedition, and may face up to seven-year prison terms. Activists said they’d seen a list of 20 more police in the near future facing possible arrest.
The protesters are seeking government dissolution led by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former army chief who seized power in a 2014 military coup and returned as the country’s civilian prime minister after last year’s contentious election. The anti-government protests took an unexpected turn earlier this month when they started to include the monarchy’s demands for change. Thais need to honour the monarchy, admire it and love it, but also to fear the repercussions of speaking about it. Insulting Thailand’s monarchy will mean up to 15 years in jail under the lese-majeste rule of the kingdom.
In recent years, the use of this legislation has slowed, as Thai King Vajiralongkorn has made it known that he no longer wants it to be used so widely. But observers say the government has used other legal routes, including the sedition law, to target dissent. Second time this month, Mr Anon’s detention on Wednesday saw him charged with sedition. He previously in custody with another activist, Panupong Jaadnok, over the rally in July. This latest arrest is in relation to the Harry Potter-themed protest that took place in Bangkok on 3 August, where Mr Anon stressed that he wanted to reform the constitutional monarchy, not overthrow it.
He concentrated in particular on the Crown Property Bureau’s huge properties. They were notionally in trust for the good of the Thai people. It is under the late King Bhumibol, but which have now been declared the king’s personal wealth. It is making him by far the richest individual in Thailand. Mr Anon also questioned the decision of King Vajiralongkorn. Thus, to take personal command of all Bangkok-based military units. Also, something which he believes can not be compatible with a democratic, constitutional monarchy.
His comments have been nothing short of extraordinary in a country where few dare discuss the institution openly. Recent years have seen the kidnapping and assassination of opponents of Thailand’s monarchy who have fled to neighbouring countries. Thai police are cracking down on the campaign led by the students. They have produced the country’s biggest rallies since the coup six years ago. Protesters are seeking resignation from the military-backed government, an end to their critics’ harassment, a new constitution and fresh elections.