BANGKOK (AP) – Prosecutors in Thailand on Monday charged 18 pro-democracy activists with sedition, and filed additional charges of insulting the monarchy against three of them.
The sedition charges, which carry a maximum penalty of up to seven years in prison, stem from an anti-government demonstration in September, although details about the alleged crimes were not immediately clear.
The three accused of violating the lese majesté law, which prohibits criticism of high-ranking members of the royal family, are Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, Jatupat Boonpattararaksa and Panupong Jadnok. A court denied bail to all three and they were being transferred to prison.
Thai authorities have stepped up their legal crackdown on those involved in a student-led protest movement that is pushing for Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and his government to resign, the constitution to be amended to make it more democratic, and the monarchy to be reformed to make it more responsible.
This last demand is the most radical and controversial because the monarchy has rarely faced public scrutiny and is considered by many to be an untouchable pillar of Thai identity. Those convicted of breaking the law against criticizing or insulting key royals face up to 15 years in prison for a crime.
The protest movement has struck a chord with many Thais, but has alienated others, especially royalists, scandalized by their criticism of the monarchy. The movement began to lose steam late last year amid differences between its factions and due to the resurgence of the coronavirus in Thailand.
Last month, prosecutors charged four leaders of the lese majesty protest and were denied bail.
Jatupat, who was jailed for violating the lese majesty law in 2017, said he and the other activists charged Monday would continue to fight from jail.
“The foreign movement will surely continue no matter what happens,” he said.
Jatupat completed a nearly 250-kilometer (155-mile) walk from northeast Thailand to the Bangkok Democracy Monument on Sunday. Along the way, he campaigned and talked to people about overthrowing Prayuth, amending the constitution, and abolishing the lese majesty law.
According to the group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, at least 382 people, including 13 minors, have been charged in connection with the protests, which gained momentum last summer. At least 60 of those people have been charged with lese majesty.
Associated Press journalist Bill Bredesen contributed to this report.