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BANGKOK, Feb 10 — Hundreds of protesters gathered in Bangkok today to demand the release of four activists jailed a day earlier pending their trial for insulting Thailand’s king, a crime punishable by 15 years in prison.
The demonstration had originally been organised by activists to show solitary with anti-coup protests in neighbouring Myanmar, but it morphed into calls to change or end the strict “lese majeste” law.
Many protesters banged pots and pans, borrowing from Myanmar’s nightly displays of discontent at last week’s military intervention, while some held Myanmar flags to show support for its pro-democracy movement.
Youth-led protests in Thailand last year broke traditional taboos by openly calling for reform of the powerful monarchy and the denial of bail on Tuesday for four key leaders prosecuted for royal insults has enraged activists.
About 1,000 protesters had gathered by nightfall, some holding signs that said “free our friends” and “abolish 112”, referring to the article of the Thai criminal code that covers royal insults. Others struck metal pans bearing the numbers 112.
Some 44 opposition lawmakers earlier on Wednesday submitted a proposal to amend the article.
Protest leaders declared the rally a resumption of last year’s street demonstrations, which were disrupted by a second wave of coronavirus infections that has seen Thailand’s cases increase five-fold since mid-December.
“Today is the first gathering, first opening and a battle after an unjust system jailed our friends,” Panupong Jadnok, a protest leader said.
They renewed last year’s three demands: ousting Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, rewriting the military-backed constitution, and reforming the monarchy.
Panupong said events in Myanmar should inspire the Thai pro-democracy movement.
“If today, Myanmar, our neighbours, can defeat this coup, then we will also be victorious, but if they cannot overcome then we should not lose hope,” he said.
Prayuth, who led a coup in 2014, said the return of protests will harm Thailand.
“Is it appropriate? If it’s not, then don’t go support them. Haven’t we had enough in Thailand?” he said. — Reuters
Pro-democracy protesters face off with riot police during a rally demanding the end of Thailand’s royal defamation law in Bangkok on February 10, 2021. — AFP pic
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