After a 15-year-old girl was detained pending trial on a royal defamation charge on Wednesday (29 March), Amnesty International notes how children continue to be targeted by the authorities for dissent and how recent use of the royal defamation law shows the shrinking of civic space in Thailand. They also called for the authorities to drop charges against activists and protesters and refrain from arrest and pre-trial detention of peaceful protesters.
Mannequins with signs showing the number of charges filed against people under 18 for participating in pro-democracy protests. (Photo from Amnesty International)
Responding to the pre-trial detention of a 15-year-old girl in Bangkok accused of violating the lèse-majesté law after her participation in a peaceful protest, Amnesty International’s Thailand Researcher Chanatip Tatiyakaroonwong said:
“This development is yet another unsettling reminder that Thai authorities continue to target children as they use the law on lèse-majesté to suppress peaceful dissent. In addition, March alone saw convictions of at least four protesters as well as several new charges and indictments under this law.
“Recent cases demonstrate the dramatic shrinking of civic space for millions of people in Thailand, as authorities increasingly refuse to tolerate peaceful dissent. Since late last year, peaceful protesters have been found guilty of lèse-majesté for merely exercising their right to freedom of expression in online posts, participating in mock fashion shows, and most recently, selling calendars online with drawings of yellow ducks, a symbol of the protest movement.
“Thai authorities must drop all charges against individuals under laws inconsistent with international human rights law and standards. They must also refrain from arresting and holding peaceful protesters in pre-trial detention.”
Yok (whose full name is being withheld for security reasons), the 15-year-old activist put in pre-trial detention this week, joined a peaceful protest on 14 October 2022 where she called for the removal of the lèse-majesté law. Authorities issued an arrest warrant for her on 28 February 2023 and detained her at the Baan Pranee Children and Juvenile Training Centre for Girls in Nakhon Pathom Province.
Yok’s case is not an isolated incident. On 7 March 2023, the Criminal Court in Bangkok sentenced a man to three years’ imprisonment for selling calendars via a Facebook page which the authorities deemed to be in violation of the lèse-majesté law. The calendar featured cartoon illustrations of a yellow duck, a symbol of Thailand’s protest movement. In a separate case, on 13 March 2023, the Chiang Mai Provincial Court found an Indigenous Karen man guilty of lèse-majesté, sedition, and the violation of the Computer Crimes Act for posting criticism of the monarchy on Facebook.
Since nationwide mass demonstrations broke out in Thailand in 2020, at least 1,895 individuals have been subject to a variety of criminal charges for their involvement in protests, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. Among these individuals, at least 237 people have been charged with lèse-majesté, including 18 children, as of 27 March 2023.
Amnesty International’s recent report “We Are Reclaiming Our Future” documented how children in Thailand faced a wide range of severe repercussions for taking part in mass demonstrations, including the criminalization of their activities, intimidation and surveillance by the authorities, and violent protest crackdowns by police.
The report called for the Thai authorities to drop all charges against peaceful child protesters, end all forms of intimidation and surveillance, and amend laws used to curb children’s right to protest to ensure they are in line with international human rights law and standards.