A dozen pro-democracy student activists were charged Thursday with royal defamation and treason, after their lawyers told a rally last year that demanded reform of Thailand’s invincible monarchy.
The pro-democracy movement, led mainly by student activists, began a year ago due to public discontent over Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s administration.
A major protest demand that emerged was monarchical reform, a once taboo issue that sparked public discussion due to student-led rallies, which at its peak attracted thousands.
In one such protest in October last year, thousands marched to the German embassy in defiance of the king, who has spent a long time in Germany.
“All 12 have been charged with 112 (les majeste) and 116 (treason), with the youngest being 20 years old,” said the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights Group (TLHR), which represents the students.
“The main reason for the allegations is the rally and speech given in front of the German embassy.”
TLHR said the students were granted bail by the end of the day under several conditions, including that they “should not commit further wrongdoing relating to the royal institution”.
A 13th protester – who was part of the rally – is also expected to appear in court on Friday to be charged with the same charge.
The dismantling of Thailand’s harsh law is one of the key demands in the pro-democracy movement, as critics have long said it is interpreted too broadly to target political opponents.
Scores of demonstrators have been struck with the royal desecration law, with the most prominent figures earning multiple charges for various protests.
It carries a maximum penalty of 15 years per charge.
Condemnation from Germany’s Greens
Ahead of the court indictment, Germany’s Green Party had put its support behind the young protesters.
“It must be ensured that they receive a fair trial and that representatives of the German embassy are given the opportunity to accompany the process,” its members said in a statement issued on Wednesday.
“We unequivocally condemn the harsh crackdown on peaceful protesters, including politically motivated allegations.”
Student leader Patsarvali Tanakitwibulpon – known as “Mind” – told AFP she was “overwhelmed with joy” by their support after leaving the court.
“It reflects support for an international principle that aligns with what we do.”
Other key demands of the movement include the resignation of Prayut – a former military chief who masterminded the 2014 coup – and rewriting Thailand’s military-written constitution.
In recent months, as Thais weather a deadly Covid-19 surge, protesters have fueled their grievances over Prayut’s handling of the pandemic.
This week, the hashtag “pryut get out” started trending as Thailand placed more provinces under partial lockdown amid a record number of new infections on an almost daily basis.
Currently, Thailand has more than 453,000 Covid-19 cases and 3,697 deaths – the toll detected since April after Bangkok’s political elite repeatedly spread outbreaks in nightclubs.