Thai Court bans reform of the law that forbids insulting the king

The Constitutional Court of Thailand ordered the Move Forward Party, the largest opposition group in parliament, to stop its campaign to reform the law that forbids insulting the king, who is enshrined as a “revered worship” figure in the Constitution.

The Constitutional Court ruled on Wednesday that the Move Forward Party, the largest in parliament, had breached the constitution by seeking to amend a law that protects the monarchy from insults. The court said the party’s campaign was a covert attempt to weaken the crown, which it said was vital for Thai identity and national security.

The court’s decision will set a standard for future examinations of one of the world’s harshest lese majeste laws. It ordered the Move Forward Party to stop a campaign that it said harmed the monarchy, an institution that is revered in the constitution.

Move Forward got the most votes in the previous election with an anti-establishment platform that included a rare proposal to change article 112 of the criminal code, which imposes up to 15 years in prison for each perceived offense against the royal family.

The king of Thailand is enshrined in the constitution as a “revered worship” figure.

“The accused’s action shows the use of freedom of thought to demand the destruction of the democratic system of governance with the king as the head of state, hidden within, and through the call to amend article 112 of the criminal code as party policy,” the court said in its verdict.

Move Forward’s agenda appealed to millions of young and urban voters, but its proposal to change the law that shields the palace from criticism angered conservatives, and its efforts to form a government were thwarted, opens new tab by legislators allied with the royalist military.

In a country where respect for the monarch has been promoted for decades as a core part of national identity, article 112, which has been used to prosecute at least 260 people in the past four years, is considered sacred by many royalists.

Although the court had no authority to punish Move Forward, the ruling is likely to spark a broader legal campaign by the party’s rivals to seek its dissolution and long political bans for its leaders over the plan to amend the law, which has not yet been introduced as a bill.

The party’s predecessor, Future Forward, had advocated similar policies and was dissolved in 2020 for breaking campaign funding rules.

“This verdict may make the monarchy more a source of conflict in Thai society. That would be more negative for the monarchy,” Move Forward leader Chaithawat Tulathon told reporters, denying an attempt to overthrow the constitutional monarchy.

“The verdict will not affect Move Forward, but will affect democracy and freedom for all Thais. This is a matter that concerns all of us.”

Move Forward is very popular in Thailand with its charismatic leaders and innovative use of social media, but its liberal, disruptive agenda, which includes plans to break up business monopolies, has clashed with powerful interest groups.

The court case was the latest development in a two-decade struggle for power in Thailand that broadly pits a group of royalists, military and old money families against parties elected on populist or progressive platforms.

Activists say article 112 has been misused by conservative politicians to tarnish liberal opponents and block institutional reforms. Move Forward had argued that changing it would strengthen the constitutional monarchy and prevent the law from being abused.

The palace usually does not comment on the lese majeste law. International human rights groups have denounced its use as extreme, including a man facing a record 50 years of jail time, opens new tab for Facebook posts critical of the monarchy.

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