A showdown is gearing up between anti-government protesters looking to rein in the monarchy and the security forces intent on thwarting them this afternoon after a dozen figures were summoned for allegedly insulting the king.
With thousands of police and barricades awaiting them at the original destination for today’s 3pm rally, organizers last night announced a change of plans to “avoid clashes” with the authorities and ultra-royalist counterprotesters. That came as 12 of the movement’s most-recognized figures were accused of lese majeste for demanding royal reforms.
Just hours before thousands were expected in Dusit district at the Crown Property Bureau – the agency which long managed the king’s extensive wealth and holdings – the Free Youth group announced late last night that the demonstration would instead target Siam Commercial Bank headquarters on Ratchadapisek Road.
“Under this state, being near the police does not make you feel safe,” the group said. “Under this state, having the king above the constitution does not only disgrace the people, but buttresses inequality. Under this state, the people are ruled by capitalists, military and feudalists who wretchedly write the law. And under this state, the ruling class oppresses the people who are true founders and heirs of this country, not any great king.”
Siam Commercial Bank, or SCB, is Thailand’s oldest bank, and King Vajiralongkorn became its largest shareholder after shares held by the Crown Property Bureau valued at about US$500 million were transferred to him. Soon after taking power, the king put under his control the wealth and assets which had long been managed by the bureau.
The group said that the combined value of shares in the bank and Siam Cement Group, the nation’s second largest company, transferred to the king amounted to THB201.7 billion (US$6.6 billion). “If you don’t call this robbing a nation, what else would you call it then?” the group said this morning.
The bank this morning announced its headquarters would be closed today. Police officers were seen beefing up security at the bank’s complex including barricades erected at the venue’s entrance and exit.
Despite the change in plans, the Crown Property Bureau complex as of this morning was still surrounded by containers, razor wire and barriers.
Those summoned last night under Section 112 of the penal code, which makes insult of the royal family a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison, were: Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul, lawyer Arnon Nampa, Panupong “Mike” Jadnok, Piyarat “Toto” Chongthep, Parsavavalee “Mind” Tanakitvibulpon, Tattep “Ford” Ruangprapaikitseree and Jutatip “Ua” Sirikan.
The International Federation of Human Rights this morning asked the authorities to refrain from using the so-called lese majeste law against protesters.
“FIDH reiterates its calls on the Thai government to amend Article 112 to bring it into line with Thailand’s human rights obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a state party,” it said in a statement.
Organizers have teased protests every day through Sunday with their locations yet to be announced.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the combined value of SCG and SCB shares as claimed by Free Youth. It was THB201.7 billion rather than THB138 billion.