Thailand protesters openly criticise monarchy in Harry Potter-themed rally – (News)

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Thailand protesters openly criticise monarchy in Harry Potter-themed rally

Speakers at a Thai anti-government protest have demanded changes to the monarchy and called for its powers to be curbed in unusually frank public comments.

Defaming the royal family is punishable by up to 15 years in prison under Thailand’s lese majeste laws. Police did not stop the six speakers but said any suspected offences would be investigated.

Many of the 200 protesters were dressed like Harry Potter and other characters the popular franchise in what they said was a reference to increasing injustices under the military-backed government.

Anon Nampa, a 34-year-old lawyer, accused the palace of taking on increasing powers that undermined democracy and of inaction in the face of attacks on opponents of the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former junta leader.

After Maha Vajiralongkorn took the throne in 2016, the palace required revisions to a new constitution that gave him greater emergency powers. The king has since taken personal control over some army units and palace assets worth tens of billions of dollars.

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Meanwhile, some activists have complained of harassment by authorities, saying at least nine opposition figures living abroad have disappeared. Two were later found dead. Reuters has not independently confirmed what happened to them.

“Talking about this is not an act to topple the monarchy, but to allow the monarchy to exist in Thai society in the right way and legitimately under a democratic and a constitutional monarchy,” Anon told the group of about 200 at Bangkok’s Democracy monument.

Two student groups then read out demands including: “Cancelling and reforming the laws that expand the power of the monarch and that could impinge on democracy where the king is the head of state.”

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The palace did not answer phone calls on Monday seeking comment on the criticism.

The deputy government spokeswoman said it was up to police whether to act against the protesters. “The government wants the young protesters to observe the laws so that they can continue to exercise their rights to make their demands and the country can stay peaceful,” Ratchada Thanadirek said.

The students from Mahanakorn and Kaset universities also called on the authorities to amend laws banning criticism of the monarchy.

Student protests to demand the resignation of Prayuth’s government and create a new constitution happen almost daily. While some placards have made veiled criticism of the monarchy, this is the first time it has been open.

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A police officer, Surapong Thammapitak, said: “We cannot yet determine what offences have been committed … Any offences under any laws will be processed for the investigators.”

Prayuth said in a speech in June that there had been no prosecutions under the lese majeste laws recently, at the king’s request, but warned against criticising the monarchy.

Criticism was exceedingly rare under the king’s father, Bhumibol Adulyadej, whose 70-year reign ended with his death in 2016.

Paul Chambers, who teaches international affairs at Thailand’s Naresuan University, said: “Such open criticism of Thailand’s monarch by non-elites at a public place within Thailand with the police simply standing by is the first of its kind in Thai history.”

The post Thailand protesters openly criticise monarchy in Harry Potter-themed rally appeared first on The Guardian.

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