A Thai court convicted the pro-democracy activist and human rights lawyer, Arnon Nampa, of violating the country’s royal insult law, sentencing four years in prison on Tuesday.
According to Nampa’s lawyer, Krisadang Nutcharus, the court found Nampa guilty (among other charges) of violating article 112 of Thailand’s penal code, a crime known as lese majeste. The penalty for this offense can be up to fifteen years imprisonment per instance for defaming, insulting, or threatening the king, queen, heir apparent, or regent.
The activist had been at the forefront of a movement demanding reform of the monarchy and was convicted for making a speech calling for monarchy reform on 14 October, 2020, at a protest rally in the Thai capital.
After the sentencing was announced, Nampa shared some words in a video from Time.
A Movement for Democracy
Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Thailand in the summer of 2020, calling for a return to democracy. However, protestors are trying not to end the monarchy, but to reform it. The protestors created a list of ten demands to be met by the monarchy in order to bring about reform.
The demands consisted of: stripping the monarch of legal immunity; revoking the lese-majeste law and pardoning all those jailed for the crime; clearly defining which assets are held privately by the king; reducing tax money supporting the institution; abolishing all royal offices; opening all money given to royal charities to public scrutiny; forbidding the monarch from expressing political opinions; cutting all royalist propaganda; investigating the disappearances and murders of critics of the monarchy; and outlawing royal consent to coups.
The protests have sparked a national debate about the future of the country since the 2014 military coup.
Rise of a New Generation
Before 2020, discussing the role or status of Thailand's monarchy publicly was completely taboo. However, high school and university students led waves of protests, breaking the longstanding taboo and risking prison sentences, challenging the Thai monarch.
Two distinct groups of student activists emerged from the youth movement. The Free Youth Movement is the group that spearheaded the initial protest in July, while The United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, a student group from Bangkok’s Thammasat University, is a staunch advocate for reform of the monarchy.
Despite the ban on large gatherings, an estimated 10,000 young people took part in the largest marches in October in the Thai capital of Bangkok, demonstrating their commitment to the cause.
The Hunger Games 'three-finger' salute has become an iconic symbol of protest in Thailand, representing a sign of resistance against the ruling regime. It has been widely adopted by protestors as a rallying symbol, making headlines around the world. Other student protestors took to social media and posted the hashtag “#whydoweneedaking?”, becoming one of the top trending topics in Thailand for targeting the monarchy and demonstrating the strength of their movement.
Between May 2020 and September 2023, at least 257 individuals, including 20 minors, were charged with lese majeste. The outcome of Nampa’s case is seen as a strong warning to activists advocating reform in the Thai monarchy.
Revolutionizing the Political Landscape: Thailand’s Future
According to Thailand’s constitution, the monarchy is enshrined to be held in “revered worship” and it is protected from any criticism by strict lese-majeste laws. Yet, the May 2023 election was a pivotal turning point for Thailand.
The youth-led protests in 2020 resulted in a record-breaking turnout of over 39 million voters in the 2023 election, which saw the Move Forward Party, a progressive left-wing political party, led by Pita Limjaroenrat, win with a mandate to bring about change, including amending the role of the monarchy in the country’s politics.
Despite winning the election, Move Forward was unable to advance with its agenda due to being blocked by conservative lawmakers in parliament who opposed their pledge to amend the strict lese majeste law.
Edited by: Anwen Venn
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