Leaders of the Thailand's pro-democracy movement have heard charges against them of insulting the monarchy. Protesters directly challenged the validity of the lese majeste law.
Thai protest leaders on Monday presented themselves to police to hear lese majeste charges over insults to the monarchy of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
The protesters said they would not be deterred from their demonstrations. It is the first time in over two years that anyone has faced such charges, which are covered by Article 112 of the Thai criminal code.
Such charges can be punished with a jail sentence of up to 15 years in prison.
"[Article] 112 is an unjust law. I don't give it any value," rights lawyer and protest leader Arnon Nampa told reporters. "I am ready to fight in the justice system."
Arnon said that he and other protesters had acknowledged and denied any wrongdoing. Seven protest leaders face royal insult charges. They also face separate charges alongside other protesters relating to demonstrations since July.
Another of the protesters to be charged, Parit Chiwarak, said the legal action would prove counter-productive for authorities.
"When people criticize the monarchy and they listen, people will consider them open-minded. But if they use 112 to shut our mouths, not only Thai people but also the world will know they are afraid of the truth,'' he said.
The protests have become the greatest challenge to the monarchy in decades, having broken taboos by openly criticizing the monarchy which, according to the demands of the constitution, must be held in the highest esteem.
Current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha — a former army chief who overthrew an elected government in 2014 — said in July that the lese majeste charges were not being used at the request of the king.
The Royal Palace has avoided commenting on the protests since they began. When he was asked about the protesters recently, the king — who spends long periods of his time away from the country, in Germany — said they were loved "all the same."
Activists want the king's powers to be curbed so that he is clearly accountable under the constitution. They also want a reversal of changes that gave him control of the royal fortune and for him to cede control of a royal fortune valued at billions of dollars.
Critics say the monarchy has enabled decades of domination by the military, with 13 successful coups having taken place since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932.
rc/msh (AFP, Reuters, AP)