Thai rights lawyer jailed on royal insult charge among Time’s ‘100 Next’

Arnon Nampa speaks on stage on Sept. 19 at a demonstration at Sanam Laung. Photo: Coconuts
Arnon Nampa speaks on stage on Sept. 19 at a demonstration at Sanam Laung. Photo: Coconuts

A human rights lawyer who cracked open taboo by challenging the once unassailable Thai monarchy – and who now languishes in jail on charges of insulting the king – was recognized as an “emerging leader” by Time magazine.

Held in pre-trial detention on a charge of lese majeste alongside other three activists since last week, Arnon Nampa on Wednesday was one of 100 promising advocates worldwide identified by the New York-based magazine.

He may have an unassuming demeanor and a penchant for dressing up like Harry Potter, but human-rights lawyer Arnon Nampa has his country’s establishment quaking,” wrote Charlie Campbell, East Asia correspondent for the magazine. “Arnon has energized young Thais with his demands to strip political power from the historically sacrosanct royal family and shred the military-drafted constitution.”

The Next 100 lists are an expansion to its 100 most-influential list, which Time said it created to recognize emerging voices wielding power and influence outside of traditional power structures. It highlights new faces in business, politics, entertainment, health and activism.

Arnon, 36 of Roi Et, was a fierce human rights lawyer who volunteered his services for years through Thai Lawyers for Human Rights before taking a leadership role in the reform movement last year.

It was Arnon’s calls for royal reforms at an August rally that shattered generations of taboo about an institution that had been held up as divine providers to which the kingdom owed its fealty.

Pro-democracy protesters have been calling for Arnon’s release ever since a court unexpectedly ordered him and other top protest leaders held in remand for the duration of their prosecution under Section 112 of the Penal Code, which punishes royal insult with up to 15 years in prison per offense. He is being held alongside, Patiwat “Bank” Saraiyaem, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak and Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, who spent years in prison on a previous lese majeste conviction.

Arnon is the only Thai national on the list this year. Last year, when the list debuted, it saw three Thais: political opposition leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, sustainability landscape architect Kotchakorn Voraakhom and K-pop pop powerhouse Blackpink’s Lalisa “Lisa” Manoban. 

Pro-democracy protesters on Feb. 10 present portraits of detained four activists — Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, Patiwat “Bank” Saraiyaem, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak and Arnon Nampa — in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre as they shout “Release our friends.” Photo: Coconuts
Pro-democracy protesters on Feb. 10 present portraits of detained four activists — Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, Patiwat “Bank” Saraiyaem, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak and Arnon Nampa — in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre as they shout “Release our friends.” Photo: Coconuts

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