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Thai pro-democracy activist jailed for speaking out at monarchy protest | Thailand

Thai pro-democracy activist jailed for speaking out at monarchy protest | Thailand
Written by World News

A prominent pro-democracy activist has been sentenced to four years in prison for a speech he delivered during protests calling for reform of Thailand’s powerful monarchy.

Arnon Nampa, a human rights lawyer, was at the forefront of a protest movement that erupted in 2020, when hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young students, took to the streets to call for democratic changes, including to the role of monarchy.

The protests led to unprecedented, open discussion of the behaviour and status of the royal family – a topic that had previously been considered off limits for public debate.

The monarchy is shielded from criticism by a strict lese-majesty law, under which any perceived insult of the royals can lead to a prison sentence of up to 15 years.

Since the 2020 protests, which had called for the law to be scrapped, it has been used against at least 257 people, including children, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. Protesters have been accused under the law for a variety of alleged offences – from wearing fancy dress and crop tops deemed an insult to the monarchy, for social media posts and distributing satirical cartoons.

The sentence handed down to Arnon on Tuesday is the first of 14 lese-majesty cases he faces. He is requesting bail while he appeals against the court’s decision.

As he arrived at court on Tuesday, Arnon told Reuters he had no regrets for what was “a worthwhile personal sacrifice for the greater good”.

“The youth protest has created a phenomenon that has changed Thailand to the point of no return,” he said. “I believe that the people are becoming more confident in their freedom and equality and are ready to transform the country to be more progressive.”

The case against Arnon relates to a speech he delivered on 14 October 2020, according to a summary published by Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. During the speech, he called for monarchy reform, and told crowds that if there was any order to crack down on protesters that day, this would have come only from the king.

The prosecutor said that the comment damaged the king’s reputation, according to TLHR.

Arnon was sentenced to four years in prison and fined 20,000 baht (£453.32) over the speech. He had denied it was his intention to defame the king, and said his comment was aimed only at preventing a police crackdown on protesters.

Thailand’s lese-majesty law has been criticised by international rights groups and UN experts.

The progressive Move Forward party, which won the most seats and votes in this year’s election, had pledged to change the law. However, it was blocked from taking power by unelected, military-appointed senators, who fiercely oppose any efforts to weaken lese-majesty and who view the monarchy as a key pillar of Thai society that must be protected.

Move Forward and its former leader Pita Limjaroenrat face a legal case over their campaign pledge to amend the law, after it was alleged that such a policy amounted to an attempt “to overthrow the democratic regime of government with the king as a head of state”.


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