There is increasing tension about public commentary in Thailand with a Royal Thai Police investigation announced last week into international human rights group Amnesty International. This followed a protest by royalist activists who took issue with its support of student-led protests demanding reform of the monarchy in Thailand.

This week, former Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra came out to affirm his commitment to the monarchy and to deny that he was funding street protest activity. It comes amid deepening divisions over what is acceptable commentary and political activity in the country. Last week, the Royal Thai Police confirmed that they had launched an investigation into the activities of Amnesty International in Thailand on the basis that the UK headquartered international organisation may pose a threat to national security and the monarchy. Royalty activists and many in public continue to believe that external forces are bent on sowing division within the kingdom according to opinion polls.

Former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra came out this week to deny any links with street protest activity amid calls by a Palang Pracharat Party MP to have Thailand’s leading opposition parties investigated and possibly disbanded because of their support for student-led street protests. The development comes after last week’s Royal Thai Police confirmation that it was investigating Amnesty International as a threat to national security following royalist protests in central Bangkok.

Former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, now living in exile, has come forward to vehemently deny rumours that he is financially supporting organisations and movements engaged in anti-monarchy activity in Thailand.

Mr Thaksin, on Friday, in an online appearance, reaffirmed his loyalty to the royal institution and explained the circumstances surrounding the latest round of speculation.

Former PM says someone is spreading rumours about him and denies links with ongoing street protests

‘Now someone is spreading rumours that the Pheu Thai and Move Forward parties will likely be dissolved and that I’ve been supporting anti-monarchy movements,’ the 72-year-old wrote in a Facebook post on Friday. ‘Rumour has it also that money is flowing into Thailand from overseas to support these movements, with an accusing finger pointing at me.’ 

Mr Thaksin told his audience that the reports were completely unfounded and untrue. He explained that he was having difficulty making ends meet as he was exiled from the kingdom.

‘That’s totally untrue. I haven’t transferred money to fund anyone from such movements. Why would I have to do that? Making a living while living abroad is hard enough for me.’

Thailand’s only democratically elected leader to be reelected to office recounts his earlier career as a policeman and public servant to show gratitude

Thailand’s only democratically elected government leader to be returned to office by the ballot box, went further and explained why he has reason to be grateful to the kingdom and authorities in Thailand recounting earlier details of his career as a policeman and public servant before going into business and latterly into politics.

Mr Thaksin pointed to his graduation from the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School and later the Royal Police Cadet Academy and the elite education which he received in the United States after obtaining a scholarship from the Office of the Civil Service Commission as the basis for his strong sense of gratitude.

On Wednesday last, Ruangkrai Leekitwattana of the Palang Pracharat Party called on the Election Commission to begin investigating the activities of political parties in Thailand who are known to be giving assistance to ongoing street protests which are calling for reform of the monarchy in the kingdom.

Former Pheu Thai list MP refers to recent Constitutional Court ruling as he calls for a probe of political parties supporting protest leaders

In the past, speaking on the exclusive Clubhouse app, Mr Thaksin has repeatedly urged the government led by General Prayut Chan ocha to enter into dialogue with the student protesters saying it was important to listen to the younger generation.

Court ruling could lead to further polarisation in Thai politics and is bad news for Pheu Thai Party

Mr Ruangkrai, former Pheu Thai MP list MP who switched sides earlier this year, referred to a significant Constitutional Court ruling in late November which has widened the definition of what is constitutionally unacceptable under Section 49 of Thailand’s 2017 constitution which prohibits any activity deemed as an attempt to overthrow the democratic regime in Thailand with the King as Head of State.

He intimated that the ruling means that action should be taken against political parties in the House of Representatives which support the student-led protests which were the subject of the ruling.

Such activities could be defined as illegal and a breach of the constitution following the court’s ruling.

His comments were directed at Thailand’s powerful Election Commission which has broad oversight of political parties and investigative powers to launch a probe.

This is a process that could lead to a case being submitted to the top court which could lead to the disbandment of the political groups concerned.

General Election in Thailand likely in 2022

Thailand is understood to be close to a General Election which most observers see happening next year after a parliamentary process amending the voting procedure for the next poll finishes its course.

The former Pheu Thai MP particularly listed efforts to support arrested leaders of the leading activists and to secure their release from detention in the aftermath of protests.

The call has drawn a robust defence from the more progressive Move Forward Party which is closely associated with the street protest movement in Thailand.

It acknowledged its role in arranging bail for leading protesters but said that this activity was an integral part of the role that party MPs were tasked with under the constitution.

Constitutional court ruling on activities of student protest leaders found it violated Section 49 provision

The ruling of the Constitutional Court last month was particularly concerned with the assistance provided to Ms Panusaya ‘Rung’ Sithijirawattanakul, Panupong ‘Mike’ Jadnok and Parit ‘Penguin’ Chiwarak in August 2020.

These three key and highly visible student protest leaders are among a group of eight who have consistently called for reform of the royal institution since a protest at a Thammasat University campus on August 10th 2020 which presented demands for reform of the country’s monarchy.

Groundbreaking protest in August 2020 saw open references to Thailand’s monarchy for the first time

This protest rocked the establishment in Thailand and was the first time the monarchy had been openly referred to in the context of street politics.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha issued a grave statement shortly afterwards in which he spoke of the kingdom being set aflame and called for restraint.

The protest movement has since claimed that they are not campaigning against the monarchy by calling for reform that they say will ultimately strengthen the body.

However, this was not the stance taken by the court in its landmark ruling which legal experts including Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam who has warned the judgment means that political movements must, in future, be more circumspect in their actions in connection with the highest institution.

Royal Thai Police announced that they are investigating Amnesty International last week after royalist protests in Bangkok and letter to the PM

The new political tensions have led to the Royal Thai Police, early last week, revealing that it is launching an investigation into Amnesty International Thailand.

This development followed protests the week before by royalist supporters and activists who handed a letter to the Vice Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office, Mr Seksakol Atthawong, on November 25th last.

The key official gave the delegation delivering the letter an emphatic response promising to resign his position if the matter was not dealt with rigorously.

The royalist supporters say Amnesty International should be investigated for its open support of jailed and charged demonstrators involved in the street protest movement saying the international organisation was a threat to Thailand’s national security.

Shock poll shows the Thai public is suspicious of third parties behind the kingdom’s current political unrest

Similar groups have also, in the past, targeted the US Embassy in Bangkok with a shock Super Poll in November 2020 showing 80% of the Thai public believed that a foreign government is interfering in the kingdom’s political affairs.

Investigation of Amnesty International in Thailand centres on its support of street protest activists

The protest against Amnesty by royalist supporters was followed by the announcement from the Royal Thai Police that it was investigating the international organisation headquartered in London as a possible threat to national security and the monarchy.

Amnesty was founded in 1961 and campaigns for improved civil rights across the globe. The organisation has over 7 million volunteers worldwide.

The rights group, which won the Nobel Peace prize in 1977, established itself in Thailand in 1993.

Initially focused on severe breaches of human rights including the use of torture by authoritarian regimes, Amnesty has since broadened its campaigns to include efforts promoting women’s rights, freedom of expression while fighting against labour exploitation, police brutality, freedom to protest and enhanced rights to education.

It is active in over 150 countries including Thailand.

The investigation into Amnesty was confirmed by Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha. It followed a recent protest by the organisation itself in Bangkok calling for freedom of expression in the kingdom.

The Amnesty initiative saw a petition with 28,426 signatures submitted to the government.

This is understood to have led to the counter-protest movement by royalist supporters.

Article 112 was reactivated in November 2020 following serious clashes between police and protesters on the streets of Bangkok

After severe protests rocked the Thai capital last year, the government reversed course and began again to prosecute infringements under the controversial Article 112 provision, a powerful section of Thailand’s criminal code which penalises any criticism of the monarchy and which has seen some individuals receive severe prison sentences.

The reactivation of prosecutorial activity in relation to the law, last year, led an older Thai woman, a former civil servant, to be jailed for 87 years for sharing material critical of the monarchy online.

Former senior civil servant sentenced to 87 years for sharing YouTube videos critical of the monarchy

Band singer arrested on arson, lèse-majesté charges after burning the Thai King’s portrait outside prison

The woman, 65-year-old Anchan Preelert, was sentenced in January this year. She was originally arrested in 2018 and served nearly three years in prison before being released on bail.

She would have faced no further consequences if the government’s decision not to pursue such cases, made at the request of His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn, had not been reversed after violent protests which targeted the Royal Thai Police headquarters in Bangkok and also saw the Thai parliament disrupted and blockaded last November.

Over 1,600 protesters charged before Thai courts

The reintroduction of Article 112 and the use of other charges, ranging from the violation of COVID-19 laws to sedition has led to 1,600 protesters being currently arraigned before Thai courts. 

These include 160 facing charges under the draconian and wide-ranging Article 112 which the courts have interpreted quite strictly often handing down consecutive, life-changing prison sentences for multiple violations.

Widening gulf in Thai society between progressive and conservative forces being played out on the streets and in the courtrooms of the kingdom

The landmark protest by students at Thammasat University in August last year calling for reform of the monarchy and the response of authorities towards the increasingly violent and confrontational protests has drawn the royal institution into the ongoing struggle between progressive activists calling for more democracy in Thailand and entrenched conservatism among swathes of the Thai population who see such calls as a threat to both Thailand’s traditions and stability.

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Many conservative activists point to recent developments and tumult in the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe to support their claims.

The Royal Thai Army in the kingdom is seen as closely aligned to these conservative principles which sees it enjoy widespread support on one side of the division.

It sees the monarchy as fundamental to the stability of society.

Younger people equate progressive policies with a stronger economy and a more integrated Thailand with the rest of the world, point to damaging coups

On the other side, an increasingly educated and younger population look towards the potential for Thailand’s economy to develop by adopting international norms and seeking modernisation of the country which they believe requires a more liberal democracy.

Thaksin poses a question to those in power on the same day he was removed from office in 2006

Opposition parties in Thailand’s parliament point to successive army coups and interference as a primary reason for Thailand’s ailing economy in part because these events have undermined international confidence and inward investment.

In the short term, the reintroduction of Article 112 has seen establishment activists use the provision to attempt to silence or thwart opposing forces.

Mr Thaksin’s statements, this week, must be seen in this context.

Earlier this year, there was ultimately an unsuccessful attempt which failed before the courts to have the former leader of the now-disbanded Future Forward Party Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit prosecuted for his criticism of the government’s vaccination policy under Article 112.

At the same time, the landmark Constitutional Court ruling in November as well as attempts by royal activists to have Amnesty Insertional prosecuted are seen by observers as a sign that the scope of political debate and criticism of the establishment is being limited in Thailand.

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Further reading:

Pheu Thai Party deputy leader proposed Thaksin’s former wife as lead candidate for Prime Minister

Move against Pheu Thai, the kingdom’s biggest political party, over it’s alleged links to Thaksin

Swirling talk of Thaksin’s return as PM quashed as fake news amid signs of a repositioned Pheu Thai Party

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