Thai police arrest activist over protest against monarchy

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai police arrested activist lawyer Anon Nampa on Wednesday over a protest on August 3, demanding the reform of the powerful monarchy, the second time he has been arrested this month, a police officer said.

Anon, 36, has been at the forefront of a movement that has staged protests almost daily in the Southeast Asian country. He was the first to openly call for changes in the role of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, and broke a long-standing taboo.

Anon was accused of sedition, said the officer, who refused to be named because he was not authorized to speak to media. He gave no further details. Neither Anon, who is already considering several other cases against him, nor his lawyer were available for comment.

Police said earlier they had warrants for Anon and five other activists. They had all been at an event calling for reforms to the monarchy, as well as broader demands for a new constitution and elections and an end to the harassment of government opponents.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former junta leader who denies activists’ accusations that last year’s elections were manipulated to keep him in power, said he recognized the demands of students, but they should do not touch the monarchy.

“There are 67 million Thais,” Prayuth told reporters. “I believe the majority does not agree with the Protestants.”

Protesters challenging the monarchy say greater democracy is impossible without changes that limit the king’s constitutional role in a country that has had 13 successful coups since absolute monarchy ended in 1932.

The Royal Palace did not respond to a request for comment.

Students use their mobile phones as flashlights to show support for the student-led democracy movement at King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology, on the outskirts of Bangkok, Thailand, August 19, 2020. REUTERS / Jorge Silva

Insulting the monarchy could lead to a 15-year prison sentence, but Prayuth said the king had not initially demanded prosecution under the red majesty laws. Sedition has a maximum term of seven years.

The protest movement drew 10,000 people to the largest demonstration in years in Bangkok on Sunday, and this week some high school students took part in protests that began on university campuses.

Hundreds of Thai high school students marched on Wednesday at the Ministry of Education and gave three-finger salutes ‘Hunger Games’ in support of protests against government and to demand more freedom in schools.

Many also wore white ribbons to show their support.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society had filed a complaint about cybercrime against exiled academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun for creating a Facebook group that was critically considered the monarchy, a spokesman said.

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The group, called Royalist Marketplace, has more than one million members.

The ministry said it was acting after Facebook had not acted on its request to close the group.

“The action of the ministry is the crudest form of information censorship. It goes against the freedom of expression that we are all right, ‘Pavin told Reuters.

In Bangkok, about 200 Thai right-wing groups formed a group to oppose the anti-government protesters. So far, sign protests have attracted only a few dozen people.

Additional Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Juarawee Kittisilpa, Edited by Matthew Tostevin, Robert Birsel, Philippa Fletcher

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