UN Expert Criticizes Thai Royal Insult Law

Protesters in Bangkok

Thai authorities must stop using draconian laws to target pro-democracy protesters and instead enter into dialogue with them, warns the UN’s special rapporteur for freedom of assembly, Clément Voule.

Voule said he had written to the Thai government to express his dismay at the use of lèse-majesté laws against dozens of protesters, and warned that the country risks sliding into violence.

“It is legitimate for people to start discussing where their country is going and what kind of future they want,” Voule said. “Stopping people from raising their legitimate concerns is not acceptable.”

The lese-majesty law hadn’t been used since 2018, its use has been revived in response to the student-led protests sweeping across the country. A total of 37 people have been charged with insulting the monarchy since authorities resumed enforcing the legislation.

The law is notorious for its arbitrary use, sweeping criteria and for the harsh sentences handed down to many convicted on such charges. Anyone who “defames, insults or threatens the king, queen, heir-apparent or regent” can face between three and 15 years on each charge.

Rights experts say that police and prosecutors are often reluctant to reject complaints due to fears that they themselves could be accused of disloyalty. A royalist group recently called on its supporters to begin reporting others, prompting fears of a witch-hunt.

Some of the leaders of the protest movement face an unusually high number of charges. Parit Chiwarak has 12 separate charges to answer whilst fellow student activist Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul has six. The human rights lawyer Anon Nampa faces eight charges.