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Rare Public Protest Against Lese Majeste Legislation

About 100 demonstrators gathered outside Bangkok's criminal court (AFP/File, Joan Manuel Baliellas)

 

Supporters of a grandfather jailed for 20 years in Thailand for insulting the king held a rare public protest against the kingdom’s strict lese majeste laws in the capital Bangkok on Friday.

About 100 demonstrators gathered outside Bangkok’s criminal court, some wearing masks with the face of Ampon Tangnoppakul, 61, who was last month found guilty of four counts of offending the royals in text messages last year.

The protesters carried a banner saying: “We are all Ah-kong,” referring to the Thai word for grandfather — now a widely-used nickname for Ampon, whose conviction alarmed activists.

Critics say that Thailand has suppressed freedom of expressions with stepped up use of its lese majeste legislation, particularly under the previous government, which was supported by the Bangkok-based elite.

Human rights activist Kwanravee Wangudom, one of the protest organisers, said the gathering lasted for 112 minutes — highlighting article 112 of the criminal code, which contains the rules protecting the royals.

“The wording is ambiguous and the punishment is not proportionate,” Kwanravee told AFP of the legislation.

Under Thailand’s lese majeste law, anyone convicted of insulting the king, queen, heir or regent faces up to 15 years in prison on each count. Police are duty-bound to investigate complaints, which anyone in the country can lodge.

The protesters also took issue with the judicial process, according to Kwanravee, who said there were doubts about whether Ampon himself even sent the messages to the private secretary of then prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

“Now we have to be careful about using mobile phones,” she told AFP. “It’s a new standard and it shouldn’t be that way.”

On Thursday, in another high profile case, an American was jailed in Thailand for two-and-a-half years for insulting the king, by publishing online — in the United States — a banned biography that he translated into Thai.

Thai-born Joe Wichai Commart Gordon, 55, was arrested in May on a visit to the kingdom. A senior US official described his sentence as “severe” (AFP)

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