Thai Activists Arrested After Royal Motorcade Confrontation

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Thai Activists Arrested After Royal Motorcade Confrontation

The charges follow an incident over the weekend in which monarchy reform activists and ultra-royalists engaged in a public brawl in Bangkok.

Thai Activists Arrested After Royal Motorcade Confrontation

The monarchy reform activist Tantawan “Tawan” Tuatulanon, 22, as seen in a photo posted to her Facebook page on February 10, 2024.

Credit: Facebook/Tawan Tantawan

Thai police have arrested two activists on charges of sedition and computer crime for allegedly harassing a royal motorcade as it made its way down a Bangkok expressway. According to the Bangkok Post, monarchy reform activist Tantawan “Tawan” Tuatulanon, 22, was arrested on Tuesday along with a companion, Natthanon Chaimahabud. Both are members of Thalu Wang, a monarchy reform group founded in 2022.

Tantawan faces a charge of inciting unrest or sedition in violation of Article 116 of the Criminal Code, which is punishable by up to seven years in prison, and a charge under the Computer Crime Act. Natthanon faces these two charges in addition to two others, including a violation of the Traffic Act.

The charges relate to an incident earlier this month in which Tantawan did a broadcast on Facebook Live showing her arguing with police officers who were blocking cars for a passing royal motorcade. The motorcade was carrying Princess Sirindhorn, the sister of King Vajiralongkorn.

As Reuters reported, the incident prompted a public stand-off. On February 10, when Tantawan and other Thalu Wang groups went to conduct a poll at one of Bangkok’s busiest sky train stations, outside the Siam Paragon shopping mall, asking members of the public whether they thought royal motorcades caused inconvenience, they were confronted by royalist activists and a public brawl erupted, which left more than a dozen people injured.

The charges are just the latest in a long series of criminal cases involving criticisms, either implicit or explicit, of the Thai monarchy and the royalist ideology that places it above effective challenge or public scrutiny. Many have involved the use of Article 112 of the Thai penal code, also known as the country’s lese-majeste law, which criminalizes critical comments of the monarchy and royal family.

This law has been wielded with abandon over the past few years in order to silence the leaders and participants of the youth-dominated protest movement of late 2020 and early 2021, which were notable for openly calling for curbs on the monarchy’s powers. Tantawan is already facing a charge under Article 112 for a separate public poll she conducted in 2022 about the royal motorcade issue. Last year she and another activist staged a 52-day hunger strike to press their case for the release of people charged with lese-majeste.

According to the organization Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, at least 262 people have since been charged with lese-majeste. But as this week’s cases show, the government has also used other laws to stamp out any wayward discussion about the royal institution – and the pace of prosecutions appears to be speeding up. Also this week, a Thai journalist and freelance photographer were arrested for reporting on an incident in which an anti-monarchy activist spray-painted an anarchist symbol and the number 112 with a line through it – a call for the repeal of the lese-majeste law – on the outside wall of Wat Phra Kaew, a temple inside Bangkok’s Grand Palace. The two journalists have since been released on bail. Also Tuesday, another activist, Nophasin “Sai Nam” Trirayapiwat, was arrested on charges related to the graffiti incident.

The progressive Move Forward Party (MFP), which pledged to reform Article 112 if it was elected at last year’s general election, is also being targeted by royalist activists.

Last month, the Constitutional Court ordered the MFP to cease its campaign to reform the lese-majeste law, saying that it amounted to an attempt to overthrow the country’s system of constitutional monarchy. An ultra-royalist lawyer and activist subsequently filed a petition with the Election Commission, seeking the MFP’s dissolution.