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Thailand has a long and complex history of political unrest, has lived through military coups and has had 20 Constitutions and Charters since the overthrow of absolute monarchy in 1932.
Nevertheless, a new wave of protests, led by high school and university students, began early this year as a direct response to a court decision to dissolve “Future Forward”, a pro-democracy opposition party popular among the youth.
Utilizing the right to the freedom of expression is somewhat paradoxical in Thailand as it often clashes with Thailand's lèse-majesté law (Article 112 of the Criminal Code), a law that prohibits insult to the monarch. Hence, although the Constitution states : "A person shall enjoy the liberty of communication by lawful means." (Section 36), many who have expressed their opinions in public or shared critical commentary online have been charged of criminal defamation and the dissemination of false information.
Activist Pansak Srithep illuminates the dangers faced by activists who continue to speak out against the injustices taking place in the country, including the use of criminal laws by the government to suspend fundamental rights such as the freedom of expression, association and assembly. “The open space in society has been affected by the repression. Activists have been arrested and charged repeatedly, to the point where it disrupts the rest of their life. Now they have to think of the consequences before agreeing to take action.”
Within that context, most of the protesters are united around the call for the :
1. complete dissolution of Parliament
2. drafting of a new Constitution
3. eliminating harassment of those who criticize the government
4. preventing military interference in politics (considering that the current Constitution was drafted under heavy influence of the military.)
In response, the Prime Minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, has stated that some of the protesters’ demands regarding the Constitution will be considered, but has stressed that the monarchy should not be criticized (according to reports of September 2020).
Furthermore, royalists have responded to the student-led demonstrations insisting that the aim is to abolish the monarch. In contrast, protesters highlight that the Constitution, written and enacted under military rule, is fundamentally undemocratic. Moreover, Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul (protester), stressed that their intention "is not to destroy the monarchy but to modernize it, to adapt it to our society".