Human Interest

Thai party banned from discussing draconian royal defamation law

By Lobsang DS Subirana

Bangkok, Jan 31 (EFE).- Thailand’s constitutional court on Wednesday banned the winning party of last year’s elections from discussing a draconian royal defamation law on grounds that it weakens the country’s monarchical institution.

The court released a statement in which it forbids the Move Forward party and its leader Pita Limjaroenrat from addressing the abolition or amendment of Section 112 of the Thai criminal code, saying that doing so degrades the nation’s powerful monarchy.

“The actions of (Move Forward and its leaders) and in proposing additional amendments to Article 112 of the Penal Code, and using said party policies for their electoral campaign, have the specific objective of undermining the monarchy, causing it to be degraded, corrupted and weakened,” the statement read in Thai.

The law – among the world’s toughest on dissent – punishes anyone deemed to have defamed the Thai king, queen, heirs or the regent with prison terms of up to 15 years.

The decision comes after lawyer Theerayut Suwankesorn presented a case in July arguing that the party’s 2023 campaign promise to reform the controversial law was tantamount to an attempt at overthrowing the government, which is illegal under Section 49 of the constitution.

Move Forward escaped dissolution, which befell its predecessor Future Forward party in 2020, but the ruling could encourage further legal efforts to disband it.

The judges said at the end of the ruling that the court’s decision should not be held in contempt, adding that violations could lead to imprisonment and a fine of up to THB50,000 (about $1,410.)

Pita, who did not appear in court but instead followed proceedings live from parliament, said the move would impact democracy in the country.

“The ruling changes the definition of a constitutional monarchy (…) and what ‘overthrowing’ it means,” the leader said after the verdict, calling the decision a “loss of opportunity.”

It’s the latest blow to the political agenda of Move Forward, which stunned establishment parties when it won the country’s elections in May on a pledge to reform Article 112 among other progressive promises.

The law, last amended more than 50 years ago to increase the punishment for its infringement, has been routinely used to quell dissent toward the royal family, which had until recently occupied a semi-divine role in Thai society.

Human rights and free speech groups have criticized its use to silence or prosecute political opponents, who in many cases have fled the country on self-imposed exile, with hundreds of cases registered in less than four years.

At least 262 people have been charged with the crime since July 2020, NGO Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said.

The latest case came on Jan. 18, when political activist Mongkol Thirakhot, 30, was sentenced to a record 50 years in prison for his alleged criticism of the monarchy after a Thai appeals court added 22 years to his previous sentence, handed in 2023.

Thailand’s monarchy – valued at tens of billions of dollars – is the world’s richest and underwent a transition in 2016 following the death of the late King Bhumibol. He was widely revered and headed the state for more than 70 years until his son, current monarch King Vajiralongkorn, ascended the throne after his passing.

In July 2020, mass student-led peaceful demonstrations broke a taboo in the country by openly discussing and demanding that Article 112 be abolished or amended, leading to multiple clashes with riot police.

The events sparked a movement for reform, on which Move Forward campaigned to win last year’s elections.

However, Pita’s party was unable to form a government despite having the most seats in the lower house. This was due to the constitution of 2017, drafted and rubber stamped under the military dictatorship of Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha, and a clause which allowed the upper house to vote for the prime minister after it was handpicked by the ruling junta.

Pro-monarchy and pro-military elites oppose reformists’ proposals to reduce the power of the armed forces and royal institutions. EFE

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