Thai police arrest student after king’s portraits defaced by Reuters

BANGKOK (Reuters) – An activist student has been arrested and charged under strict Thai law with insulting the monarchy after being accused of defacing portraits of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, his lawyer and police said on Thursday. Sirichai Nathuang, 21, a student at Bangkok’s Thammasat University, is one of at least 40 activists charged with “lese majesty” since November amid protests demanding the resignation of the former leader of the board, the first Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. The youth-led movement has also broken long-standing taboos by demanding reforms from the monarchy, leading to the resumption of use of the lese majesty law, which had not been invoked since 2018. Violations of the law or article 112 of the penal code, carry penalties of up to 15 years in prison. Portraits of the king are ubiquitous on the streets of Thailand’s cities, as well as in most schools and businesses. Sirichai was accused of spray painting messages on some of those portraits earlier this week and was arrested Wednesday night, said Noraset Nanongtoom of the group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. “Sirichai denied all the allegations and will fight the case,” Noraset told Reuters, adding that his client was released on bail. Defacing a royal portrait was almost unheard of during the reign of the king’s father, who died in 2016 after 70 years on the throne. Noraset said police accuse Sirichai of spreading messages calling for the abolition of the lese majesty law. He said his client was the first of the protesters to be arrested under the law, while 40 others were charged but not arrested. Deputy Police Spokesperson Kissana Phathanacharoen said the police acted in accordance with the law. “There are no double standards,” he said. A government spokesman said last week that the use of the law against some of the protesters was justified. The opposition party Move Forward said Thursday that it will seek to amend the lese majesty law when parliament reconvenes. “The use of Section 112 in the current situation will only worsen the relationship between the king and the people in a democratic society,” the party’s general secretary, Chaithawat Tulathon, said in a statement.

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