Second Thai protest against royal insult laws

AFP , Saturday 10 Dec 2011

About 100 Thai demonstrators march through Bangkok for the second rally in two days to protest against laws which immune the royal family from criticism amid international calls for adopting new freedom-supporting legislations

Protesters gather outside the Criminal Court in Bangkok December 9, 2011. (Photo:Reuters)

A small band of Thai protesters marched through Bangkok on Saturday for the second rally in two days against the country's widely-criticised laws protecting the monarchy.

Public protests against the legislation are rare in Thailand, where discussions related to the royal family are hugely sensitive, but the action was sparked by a recent court case that saw a grandfather jailed for 20 years.

In a case that alarmed rights activists and the European Union, Ampon Tangnoppakul, 61, was last month found guilty of four counts of offending the royals in text messages sent last year, under Thailand's strict lese majeste laws.

About 100 people, mainly in black and carrying banners, joined Saturday's "fearlessness walk", according to an AFP photographer at the scene -- around the same number that were present at a similar demonstration next to the criminal court on Friday.

"We see that the lese majeste law has created an atmosphere of fear in Thailand," Kwanravee Wangudom, a protest organiser, told AFP after the event, adding that the legislation had been used as a "political tool".

Under the Thai law, anyone convicted of insulting the king, queen, heir or regent faces up to 15 years in prison on each count. Police are duty-bound to investigate complaints, which anyone in the country can lodge.

The acting spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Friday called on Thailand to "amend the laws on lese majeste," saying the harsh sentences were having a "chilling effect" on freedom of expression.

On Thursday, in another high profile case, an American was jailed in Thailand for two-and-a-half years for insulting the king, by publishing online -- in the United States -- a banned biography that he translated into Thai.

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