Thailand: Riot police clash with protesters over monarchy reform

Police in Thailand used water cannons and tear gas to disperse protesters in Bangkok who gathered demanding reform of the monarchy and the release of pro-democracy activist leaders.

Thai police dressed in riot gear pushed back about 1,500 protesters who had pulled down part of a barricade of shipping containers outside the Grand Palace.

Police used shields, batons, rubber bullets and tear gas and arrested five protesters, police deputy spokesman Kissana Pattanacharoen told reporters.

“We repeatedly issued warnings before escalating our response,” he said, adding that protesters used metal bars and threw stones and marbles.

A youth-led protest movement sprang up last year calling for Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s resignation and a reform of the powerful monarchy.

Posing the biggest challenge so far to the prime minister, protesters broke a traditional taboo by saying the constitution drafted by the military after the 2014 coup gives the king too much power.

Demonstrators also say he engineered a process that would preserve the political status quo and keep him in power after a 2019 election. Prayuth, who previously led the military government, has rejected the claims.

Since the movement erupted, more than 60 people have been charged under Thailand’s draconian royal defamation laws, and a handful of the most prominent leaders have been arrested.

Police raid publishing house

The royal defamation laws shield ultra-powerful King Maha Vajiralongkorn and his family from defamation, but rights groups say their broad use means anything perceived as criticism can land a person in jail for up to 15 years per charge.

Earlier in the day, police raided the publishing house Same Sky Books and confiscated 100 copies of a controversial book by prominent human rights lawyer Anon Numpa, titled The Institution of Monarchy in Thailand’s Society.

“The next step is we will have experts examine the content to see whether if it is illegal,” Police Major Trirong Prasopmongkol told AFP.

“This raid is related to the protest today because protesters said on social media that they will distribute these books.”

After the raid, protest group Redem posted the book’s e-copy, inviting demonstrators to download it and “read it out loud” at the protest.