A person holds a portrait of Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn, as royalists wait for the arrival of royal couple in Bangkok, Thailand. File/Reuters
A Thai opposition party on Wednesday submitted a proposal to amend the country’s strict royal insult law, a potentially groundbreaking move that it said could ease political tension and improve freedom of expression amid anti-government protests.
The proposed amendment by 44 lawmakers from the opposition Move Forward Party comes a day after four leaders of youth-led demonstrations were jailed pending trial under the royal insult law, known as lese majeste, which carries penalties of up to 15 years in prison.
The move is significant in a country where criticising the king - who is revered among the military and many conservative Thais - has long been taboo and even talking about lese majeste can trigger a criminal charge.
At least 58 activists have been charged with royal insult since November over protests where calls were made for reform of the monarchy and an end to military involvement in government.
Move Forward wants to allow honest criticism of the monarchy, sharply reduce punishment terms and allow only the Royal Household Bureau, instead of private citizens, to file lese majeste complaints with police, which it said would prevent abuse.
Those who defame or threaten the king would still face imprisonment under the proposal, but for up to one year, or a 300,000 baht ($10,027) fine, or both.
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“This is a proposal that we think all sides can talk about, can accept and live with, and it will ease the political tension,” said Move Forward lawmaker Chaithawat Tulathon.
The amendment would need majority support from the military-appointed Senate and the elected lower house, where the army-backed coalition of former coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha holds a firm majority after disputed 2019 elections.
Royalist party Thai Pakdee on Wednesday submitted a rival proposal signed by more than 100,000 people to stop any lese majeste law amendment.
“Some groups wanted to topple the monarchy, but they are telling society that they are only want to reform,” said Warong Dechgitvigrom, of Thai Pakdee Party.
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