A mass trial against 22 Thai pro-democracy activists charged under the sedition act and other provisions, including the country’s lèse-majesté (royal insult) laws, began Monday. The demonstrators have been charged for their speeches and actions at one of the youth movement’s many mass pro-democracy protests against the country’s monarchy and military establishment.
The kingdom’s lèse-majesté law under Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code proscribes acts of defaming, insulting, or threatening the king, the queen, the regent, or the heir apparent. The government had arrested numerous protesters including many university students, under this provision in December.
A group of university students who are members of the Ratsadon (the People’s Group) have been repeatedly denied bail by the Thai Criminal Court for writing their final exams on the grounds that they may re-offend by “holding more protests.” One protester has been transferred to prisons meant for convicts causing their lawyer to raise concerns of innocence until proven guilty.
UN human rights experts have raised concern over the law being used to quell peaceful protests for constitutional reforms, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has also called for its amendment in consonance with the protections under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The protests in Bangkok, ongoing since July last year, continue with hundreds gathering to denounce the use of lèse-majesté against dissent. One of the prominent youth leaders, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak has asserted that the “truth cannot be locked up” and later announced a hunger-strike until he and his friends are granted bail. According to defense lawyer Krisadang Nutcharat, proceedings have been adjourned until March 29. The length of the trial is presently unknown but will be determined after the prosecution and the defense decide upon the number of witnesses to be called from both sides.