Thailand Uses Lèse-Majesté Law Against Protesters

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Thailand Uses Lèse-Majesté Law Against Protesters

Over the past few months, Thai pro-democracy activist Parit Chiwarak has been in and out of police stations fighting criminal charges that range from unlawful assembly to sedition. On Monday, he appeared before police to face his most daunting legal challenge yet: lèse-majesté.

Mr. Parit, 22 years old, is one of at least five activists accused of defaming Thailand’s monarchy, an offense that could carry punishment of up to 15 years in prison. The cases filed against them are the harshest to date involving the leaders of the pro-democracy movement that has brought unprecedented scrutiny to the nation’s powerful throne this year.

Lèse-majesté outlaws any perceived insult to the royal family. Its use against Mr. Parit and other activists marked its first formal application in two years, signaling a shift toward stricter action to curb the youth-led protests. Many of the young demonstrators have openly opposed the throne—actions once considered socially taboo in addition to being legally risky—as well the country’s royalist-military elite that, they say, is holding back democratic progress.

Since the protests began earlier this year, authorities had refrained from applying the lèse-majesté law. That approach has changed.

Mr. Parit and the other four defendants reported to police on Monday to acknowledge the complaints against them, setting an investigation in motion. At least three others have been informed that they will face a similar fate, according to the legal aid group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. None have been arrested.

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