BANGKOK — Political activists met Thailand’s biggest opposition party on Tuesday (Jan 31) to demand that, if it wins in upcoming elections, it revoke a tough law that criminalises insults of the country’s monarchy.
Thailand has some of the world’s strictest lese majeste laws, with punishments of up to 15 years in prison for each perceived royal insult. Hundreds of people have been arrested or jailed under the rules, some for as long as 43 years.
Article 112 of the criminal code, as the law is known, has long been a taboo topic in Thailand and calls for it to be reformed have also led to arrests.
Eight activists met on Tuesday with the Pheu Thai party and said scrapping Article 112 must be a priority.
Pheu Thai has won most votes in every election in the past two decades and will be among the key contenders in this year’s poll, which is due by May.
“If the Pheu Thai Party want to win by a landslide, they need to revoke 112,” activist Somyot Prueksakasemsuk said ahead of the meeting.
It came as two youth activists in pretrial detention on lese majeste charges entered their 13th day of hunger strike to demand the law be made an election issue.
Article 112 was for decades off-limits in public or political debate, but youth activists have recently started to discuss it on social media and at public gatherings and protests.
All 17 ruling coalition parties have vowed not to touch the law, while the ultra royalist Thai Pakdee party has started a petition to make it even stricter.
The palace typically does not comment on the law. No political party has ever called for it to be revoked, though several support debate on its enforcement or reducing punishments.
After the meeting, Natiporn Sanesangkhom, one of the activists, said Pheu Thai gave no firm answer on abolishing article 112.
Its secretary-general, Prasert Jantararuangtong, encouraged public discussion on the way it was being enforced as a means of addressing problems in the short term.
“There are many opinions and polarised views in society on the amendment of this law, which could lead to more conflict,” he told reporters.
In just over two years, 228 people have been charged under lese majeste and 10 are currently in detention, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, which has represented many of those accused of royal insults.