Thai activists jailed pending trial for royal insults

Protest leader Parit Chiwarak (left) and human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa arrive at a criminal court in Bangkok, on Feb 9, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Four Thai activists were remanded in prison on Tuesday (Feb 9) after being prosecuted for insulting the king, their lawyer said, as the first cases of lese majeste stemming from rallies that demanded reforms to the powerful monarchy went to court.

The protesters had broken traditional taboos by criticising King Maha Vajiralongkorn, risking prosecution under article 112 of the criminal code that make insulting or defaming the royal family a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

At least 58 activists have been charged under those laws since last November, according to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights group, which represented the four defendants on Tuesday.

Parit Chiwarak, Arnon Nampa, Patiwat Saraiyam and Somyot Pruksakasemsuk face charges of lese majeste and 10 other offences, including sedition, over a Sept 19 protest near Bangkok's royal palace, Prayuth Petchkun, deputy spokesman for the Office of the Attorney General, told reporters.

Parit also faces more such charges for his comments at a Nov 14 protest.

The four denied all charges, Krisadang Nutcharat, one of their lawyers, said.

"The court did not grant bail for the four citing that the offenses have high penalties and they have repeatedly reoffended," Krisadang said.

The court could not be reached and typically does not comment on individual cases.

It came a day after United Nations human rights experts condemned Thailand's rising number of lese majeste cases, including last month's 43-year jail sentence, the harshest punishment yet, for an elderly woman.

Thailand had briefly stopped using the lese majeste law in 2018 but police started to invoke it again in November after protesters began openly criticising the monarchy.

Krisadang said the legal team would continue to request bail for the activists, who will be held at Bangkok Remand prison, with their trials set for March 15.

The main Thai protest group Ratsadon called for more demonstrations after the court decision.

"We will not accept the law that should not exist in a democratic country, like 112, to block our thoughts and freedom anymore," it said in a statement on Facebook.

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