Thai prosecutor indicts 18 over anti-government protests

All 18 protesters were charged with sedition, while three leaders were also charged with insulting Thailand’s monarchy.

Anti-government protesters leaders Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, Panupong Jadnok, and Jatupat Boonpattararaksa arrive to report themselves over royal insult charges, at the Attorney General's office in Bangkok, Thailand March 8, 2021 [Athit Perawongmetha/ Reuters]

A Thai prosecutor has indicted 18 activists for their roles in anti-government rallies last year by a protest movement that has brought unprecedented challenges to the royal palace and military-dominated establishment.

The youth-led movement sprang up last year calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the former army chief who led the 2014 coup, and the reform of the powerful Thai monarchy, breaking a longstanding taboo under the country’s lese majeste law.

Those indicted on Monday included three prominent leaders charged with sedition and lese majeste during rallies in September, where tens of thousands of people escalated calls for royal reforms.

The other 15 protesters face trial for sedition and breaching a ban on public assembly.

“There is sufficient evidence that the accused have committed wrongdoing,” Chanchai Chalanonniwat, a deputy spokesman for the Office of the Attorney General told reporters.

If the court rejects their bail requests, all 18 could be jailed later on Monday until their trials.

Thailand’s lese majeste law prohibits criticism or insults against the king, and each offence is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Panupong Jadnok, one of those charged with lese majeste, said his group was unfazed by the prospect of jail.

“I am not too worried,” Panupong said. “The activities we have done are only the beginning, and it will go ahead even without us.”

Others indicted include Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul, a 22-year-old student activist who read out a 10-point manifesto calling for reform of the monarchy in August.

Thailand’s youth movement has posed the biggest challenge so far to Prayuth, who is accused of engineering the rules of the 2019 election to keep himself in power.

Protesters also say the constitution gives the king too much power and want that some of it be curbed.

Four other activist leaders are in jail awaiting trial over the same protests having been denied bail five times.

At least 63 people have been charged under lese majeste laws since November, according to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights group.

Source: Reuters