Thai protest leaders charged with lese majeste

Bangkok, Dec 8 (efe-epa).- Thai police on Tuesday filed charges of lese majeste, a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison, against 14 leaders of pro-democracy demonstrations that have gripped the capital city in recent months.

Among the accused are student leaders Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, Panupong “Mike” Jadnok and Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul, who appeared at a police station in Bangkok to hear the charges wearing a T-shirt denouncing article 112 of the criminal code, known as the lese majeste law.

In statements to the media, Panupong accused the government of “using the monarchy as a weapon against the people by using Article 112”.

The protesters also raised three fingers, a gesture taken from the “Hunger Games” film franchise that has become the main symbol of defiance for the wave of anti-government demonstrations that began in July.

Others accused of lese majeste were Patsaravalee “Mind” Tanakityibulpon, Jatupat “Pai Dao Din” Boonpattararaksa and Somyot Prueksakasemsuk.

The leaders of the protests have been hit with several charges of lese majeste for demanding reform of the monarchy at several demonstrations. If found guilty, they could face many years in prison.

Some of them are also accused of sedition, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.

Demonstrators are demanding the immediate resignation of the prime minister, Prayut Cha-ocha. They also want to draw up a new constitution to enshrine a reduction of power for the military – which has taken power in 13 coups since 1932 – and the monarchy.

Royal reform is the protesters’ boldest demand that has fueled the most friction with conservative sectors of Thai society.

The demonstrators are directly challenging the royal family with messages that until a few months ago would have been unthinkable in public.

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