A network of vocational school students in Nakhon Sawan said their members were followed by police officers when they set up a table for people to sign a petition to repeal the royal defamation law.
Planclothes officers watching the student group during their 26 December 2021 activity (Picture from TLHR)
The group said that on 26 December 2021, they went to Utthayan Sawan, a public park in Nakhon Sawan city, to set up a table for people to sign the petition to repeal to royal defamation law, or Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code. While they were there, they were surrounded by around 10 uniformed and plainclothes police officers, who took photos and videos of the group, claiming security reasons.
The officers also asked for documents about the petition, but the students told them that they need to sign the petition to receive any document. Despite the surveillance, the group said that about 100 people came to sign the petition.
The students returned to the park on 15 January 2022 for another event. Instead of setting up a table, they walked around the park and invited people to sign the petition. During the activity, they were followed by around 10 plainclothes officers, who they said included Special Branch police, investigation officers, and Internal Security Operations officers. The students also said that the officers took photos and videos of their activity.
The officers also tried to question them about the petition. The students said that the officers asked them why they were collecting signatures and why Section 112 needs to be repealed. They then told the officers that the royal defamation law is a problematic law which violates the people’s freedom of expression, and that the monarch can also be protected by the same defamation law as ordinary citizens.
They were asked again for documents about the petition, but the students said that the officers needed to sign the petition to be given one.
One of the officers following the students around during their 15 January 2022 activity (Picture from TLHR)
The students said that even though the officers did not prohibit them from holding their event, they were being followed at all times while walking around the park, which could be the reason why they were not able to collect as many signatures as during their previous activity. They also found that a person who is likely to be an officer tried to ask them for a petition form, but did not intend to sign it.
The students said that while they were not intimidated by the officers’ action, they believe that it deters people from signing the petition, which is considered an attempt to block public participation, even though signing petitions to propose or repeal laws is a constitutional right. They have also had to guard signed forms from being accessed by the officers.
On 31 October 2021, during a protest at Ratchaprasong Intersection, the activist network Citizens for the Abolition of 112 launched a campaign to have parliament repeal the royal defamation law. An online petition was later launched on 5 November 2021 at no112.org. Within 24 hours, it received over 100,000 signatures, and now has over 230,000 signatures, 20 times the amount required by law for a bill to be proposed to parliament by civil society.
Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code states that defaming, insulting, or threatening “the King, the Queen, the Heir apparent, or the Regent” is punishable with 3 – 15 years of imprisonment. According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), at least 167 people have been charged with royal defamation for political expression since November 2020. Following a protest in front of the Royal Thai Police HQ on 18 November 2020, Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha announced that the government would use every law it had to stop pro-democracy protesters.
Several protest leaders are facing multiple counts of the charge, including Parit Chiwarak, who is facing 23 counts; Anon Nampa, 14 counts; Panupong Jadnok, 9 counts; Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, 9 counts; and Benja Apan, 6 counts.
Four people are currently detained pending trial on royal defamation charges: Parit Chiwarak, Jatupat Boonpattaraksa, Anon Nampa, and Panupong Jadnok.