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Thailand Ignores World Demands to Stop Charging Minors With Political Crimes

Activists call for lese majeste charges against teenagers to be dropped

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Authorities have ignored the calls of rights advocates to stop charging minors with crimes such as royal defamation and lodged a lese majeste charge against a 17-year-old girl for allegedly making critical comments about the royal family.

Akkarasorn Opilan, who is a niece of liberal politician Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, was summoned to a police station last week in relation to comments she had made on social media in February regarding a heavy-handed crackdown by police on young pro-democracy activists.

The teenager was reported to the police’s Technology Crime Suppression Division by an ultraconservative vigilante group whose members monitor online comments for content that can be deemed critical of the Thai monarchy and report “defamers” to police.

Royal defamation, which is also known as lese majeste, is a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison per charge.

Over the past year scores of Thais, including several minors, have been charged with lese majeste for comments they have made on social media or during youth-led street rallies in which participants called for sweeping democratic reforms in Thailand.

Thanathorn, a charismatic billionaire turned politician who is leader of Thailand’s Progressive Movement, is himself facing several charges of royal defamation for questioning the government’s decision to award a major coronavirus vaccine manufacturing license to a small royally owned pharmaceutical company with no previous experience in vaccine production.

Since last year rights advocates have been calling on Thai authorities to stop lodging charges of royal defamation against people expressing their views on the political situation in the country.

They have especially been vocal in condemning charges brought against minors like Akkarasorn and Thanakorn Phiraban, another 17-year-old who was charged in May.

“By punishing outspoken children with lese majeste charges, the Thai authorities are seeking to intimidate peaceful critics by demonstrating that they will all be harshly punished regardless of their age,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

“These senseless, rights-abusing charges should immediately be dropped against Thanakorn and all others peacefully expressing their views.”

Over the past year scores of high school and college students, including numerous children, have also been charged with various other crimes over their participation in street protests, including sedition and breaking an emergency decree that forbids large gatherings.

“Thai authorities should not be suppressing the voices of Thailand’s children expressing their views and demanding democratic reforms,” Adams said.

“Instead of responding to children’s appeals with prosecutions, the authorities should listen to their views, and protect their rights to express their opinions without fear or intimidation.”

However, Thai authorities have refused to heed such calls and continue targeting young protesters over their participation in street protests.

Earlier this month a 12-year-old boy was detained in Bangkok while riding his bicycle to check out an ongoing street protest at a protest site.

He was charged with violating a curfew that prohibits people in the city from being outdoors between 9pm and 4am as part of Covid-19 mitigation measures.

This story first appeared in UCA News, a Bangkok Herald partner.