BANGKOK – The leaders of pro-democracy protests that have swept Thailand this month remain behind bars, although the majority of the 78 protesters who were detained between Oct. 13-22 have been released on bail.
Bangkok police deputy director, Piya Tawichai, told a press conference on Friday that eight of the 78 detainees remained in preventive custody. They include the most prominent leaders of the largely student-led protests that since July have challenged the government and monarchy, an institution that is normally shielded from criticism.
On Friday, a well-known activist, Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattararaksa was greeted by dozens of demonstrators who had gathered to demand the release of those who have been locked up for participating in peaceful protests demanding that the prime minister, former general Prayut Chan-ocha, step down and calling for reforms to the constitution and, most controversially, the all-powerful monarchy.
STATE OF EMERGENCY
The release of prisoners on Friday came one day after a “severe” state of emergency – declared last week in response to the protests that saw tens of thousands of people occupy various parts of Bangkok – was lifted and on one day before a deadline, protesters had given Prayut to announce his resignation.
Prayut has been in power since he led a military coup in 2014.
Protesters are expected to return en masse to the streets once that ultimatum expires on Saturday.
The state of emergency and the arrests of the most high-profile protesters – including lawyer Anon Nampa and students Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul and Parit “Penguin” Chaiwarak – have failed to quell the massive demonstrations, which were held every day from Oct. 14 until Wednesday when the demands were delivered to the prime minister.
At the press conference on Friday, Bangkok police’s deputy chief said that 46 of those arrested have pending charges for crimes such as violating the state of emergency, 21 for participating in illegal gatherings, 10 for sedition and 1 for resisting authority.
VIOLENCE TOWARDS THE QUEEN
But the most serious allegation hanging over three of the demonstrators is of the crime of committing “an act of violence against the Queen or her liberty,” a law that has not been used for decades and which carries a potential penalty of between 16 years to life in prison.
The accusation relates to an incident on Oct. 14 in which protesters heckled a passing motorcade that was carrying Queen Suthida and Prince Dipangkorn, reportedly shouting “our taxes!” and making the three-fingered salute that has become synonymous with the protests.
That gesture of direct defiance towards members of the royal family is unprecedented in Thailand’s modern history and was what caused the state of emergency to be decreed the next day.
Thailand has some of the world’s harshest lèse-majesté laws, under which anyone criticizing or insulting the monarchy could face prison sentences of up to 15 years.
King Vajiralongkorn, who spends most of the year in Germany but has been in Thailand on a rare trip during the past two weeks, on Friday attended celebrations at the Grand Palace in Bangkok to mark the death anniversary of his ancestor, Chulalongkorn.