Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha Thursday threatened to use “all possible laws” against democracy protestors calling for the removal of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
“The government will intensify its actions and use all laws, all articles, to take action against protesters who broke the law,” Prayuth said in a statement. “The situation is not improving. There is a risk of escalation to more violence. If not addressed, it could damage the country and the beloved monarchy.”
Activists fear these threats may trigger mass prosecutions criminalizing free speech and right to assembly. Thailand imposes some of the world’s harshest royal insult laws that carry a maximum prison sentence of 15 years.
Prayuth has done little to quell protestors’ concerns. In a recent statement, the Prime Minister did not elaborate on whether “all possible laws” referred to Article 112 of Thailand’s penal code — called the lese majeste law — which punishes insults to the monarchy, but said earlier this year that the king would not invoke this law for the time being. Police are, however, gathering evidence to use against protestors in future proceedings.
Human rights lawyer and demonstrator Arnon Nampa believes that the Prime Minister faces an ultimatum. “Prayuth has declared a battle against the people. For civil servants who have not chosen sides, you need to decide whether to live in the past or to build a future with us.”
Violent clashes between demonstrators and law enforcement left dozens injured on Tuesday, prompting protestors to throw paint at police headquarters and spray buildings with anti-monarchy graffiti. Protestors say they were responding to the police’s use of tear gas, water cannons, and gunfire on crowds.
Thailand’s demonstrations are the first in the nation’s history to challenge the longstanding monarchy. Demonstrators continue to demand changes to Thailand’s constitution, which currently grants broad police powers to the Thai military and secures Prayuth’s place in office.
Activists expect more violence in the coming days as they plan to rally in front of the Crown Property Bureau next Wednesday.