Thai Opposition Party Proposes Amendments To Royal Insult Law

A series of arrests of protestors in Bangkok led to a call for a parliamentary review of Thailand’s laws regarding security legislation, including those punished for insulting royals and criticizing the government. The Pheu Thai Party, Thailand’s largest opposition party, proposed that the parliament investigate and rethink how such laws create public distrust of the justice system and unfairly criminalize political opponents. The laws include section 112 of the criminal code, which penalizes insults against the king, queen, heir, and regent by a maximum of 15 years in prison. It has also been used to prosecute critics of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who has held power since 2014, following a military coup.

According to a tally gathered by the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights group and reported by Reuters, at least 1,634 people face charges related to protests against the Thai government last year. At least 115 were charged with royal insult, and 12 of them are under 18 years of age. Meanwhile, the government has held its position that they broke laws. Since November, at least another 58 people have been charged. 

The Pheu Thai proposition came after a group of thousands gathered in Bangkok to achieve a million signatures that support the abolition of the Royal Insult Law. Parliament has already rejected a proposal earlier this year to amend the royal insult law. According to Reuters, the new Move Forward proposal wants to allow for the honest criticism of monarchy through only the Royal Household Bureau, instead of private citizens. Additionally, they could still face up to one year in prison, as well as a fine of up to 300,000 baht. 

“[T]his is a proposal that we think all sides can talk about, can accept and live with, and it will ease the political tension,” said Move Forward’s lawmaker Chaithawat Tulathon. For the proposal to pass parliament, it must be approved by the military-appointed senate and publicly elected lower house, where the former coup leader Prayut Chan-o-cha has held a majority since 2019’s disputed elections. 

Meanwhile, the Royalist party has submitted a rival proposal signed by more than 100,000 people that prevent any amendments to the lèse majesté (royal insult) law. Warong Dechgitvigrom of the Thai Pakdee Party said, “[S]ome groups wanted to topple the monarchy, but they are telling society that they only want to reform.” Prime Minister Chan-o-cha has also stated, “[I]t’s a security matter for our country.” Denying misuse of the law, Chan-o-cha continued, “[W]e do not want to destroy something that is revered by Thai people.” Meanwhile, Thai newspapers usually self-censored issues regarding the monarchy, but in a rare moment, published infographics regarded the major party’s positions on the lèse majesté law. 

Ultimately, the issue of the royal insult law’s amendments is related to the fundamental questions of democracy, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. The lèse majesté denies citizens all of the above, as they cannot foster an environment of true intellectual debate and hence grow democracy organically. While proposals for “reform” may move Thailand in the direction of freedom, any sort of punishment in the form of fines or imprisonment still puts a heavy burden on citizens and remains a violation of human rights.