Bangkok, Dec 20 (efe-epa).- The government of Thailand has defended its lese-majeste law, which stipulates up to 15 years in prison for criticizing the royal family, after the United Nations called for its reform and cautioned against using it on pro-democracy protesters.
Government spokesperson Anucha Burapachaisri said in a statement on Saturday that the law does not curtail freedom of expression or debates over the monarchy and is equivalent to the libel law that protects any Thai citizen.
Anucha said that the law, officially known as Article 112 of the criminal code, is similar to laws in other countries, and insisted that Thailand was protecting the demonstrators’ right to protest peacefully.
“Those arrested had violated other Thai laws and admittedly the majority have been released,” said the statement.
On Friday, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) urged Thailand to amend the law, saying it violated fundamental rights, and expressed concern over its use against protesters, including a minor.
“We are particularly alarmed that the 16-year-old protester was yesterday presented by police to the Juvenile Court with a request for a detention order. The Court denied the detention order and granted conditional bail,” OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said in a statement.
Since July, student-led protests have been held almost daily and attracted massive crowds demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha and reforms to reduce the power of the military and the monarchy.
The protesters have broken a taboo in the country by initiating a debate over the monarchy, an institution revered by many Thai citizens, and directly challenging King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
The 69-year-old doesn’t enjoy the reverence of his late father Bhumibol Adulyadej, and his long stays in Germany and opulent lifestyle in Bavaria have drawn criticism during the Covid-19 pandemic, which is crippling the Thai economy.
Since he ascended the throne, the monarch has had the constitution changed so that he would not have to appoint a regent during his long stays in Germany. He has also taken personal control of key military units in the capital, in addition to the Crown Property Bureau assets, valued at over $35 billion. EFE-EPA