Anti-112 campaign moves upcountry-Bangkok Post

February 7, 2012

Activists defy army chief

Group vows Article 112 fight will go upcountry

Nattaya Chetchotiros

Bangkok Post: February 7, 2012

http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/local/278571/activists-defy-army-chief

 

A network of academics has vowed to carry on with its campaign to amend the controversial lese majeste law and defied the army chief’s call for them to cease their action.

However, the group has admitted any proposed amendments to the law stand little chance of being passed by parliament.

Puangthong Rungswasdisab, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, said yesterday the Campaign Committee for the Amendment of Article 112 is collecting 10,000 signatures to seek an amendment to Article 112 of the Criminal Code, better known as the lese majeste law.

She said several thousand people have already signed the petition calling for change.

Ms Puangthong said the campaign, which began on Jan 15, will last 112 days and end on May 5.

She said the group also plans to take the campaign to the provinces.

But army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha is clearly unhappy with several groups, including the Nitirat group, which want to amend the lese majeste law.

Gen Prayuth has urged them to stop their campaigns. Their actions will only deepen divisions in the country, he said.

The army chief said even the government and the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) have distanced themselves from the move.

Gen Prayuth said there are two committees who consider the enforcement of the law and it is impossible to use the law as a tool against anyone.

There is no prosecution unless offences are committed, he said.

“Don’t exploit Article 112 to instigate disturbances. I’d like to ask whether you could accept it if your parents are insulted,” Gen Prayuth said, referring to what he perceived as anti-monarchy sentiments among those campaigning for the reform of the lese majeste law.

However, Ms Puangthong said the army chief may not have studied the details of the proposed amendments before criticising advocates for change.

She said the army chief should take a hard look at the law because it clearly states that anyone who offends the monarchy will be punished anyway.

“What we are doing is not new. Civic groups used to collect signatures to petition for legislation. This is a right guaranteed by the constitution,” Ms Puangthong said.

“What authority will the army chief invoke to stop us? Does the army think its major duty is to stage a coup to protect the institution [of the monarchy]? The army no longer has legitimacy to stage coups,” she said.

However, Ms Puangthong admitted that there is little chance of any proposed amendments to the lese majeste law getting through parliament.

She said the primary aim of the campaign is to attract attention to the problems with the enforcement of the lese majeste law.

Ms Puangthong said there is a consensus among a large number of people in society that there is a problem with the enforcement of the law by state authorities.

Often, it has been misused to persecute people and the number of lawsuits being brought against innocent people is increasing, she said.

She stressed the group will continue with its campaign to educate the people about the law even if proposed amendments to it are not passed.

She insisted the group does not bear any ill intentions towards the monarchy.

“We don’t think we are posing a threat to the institution [of the monarchy],” Ms Puangthong said.

The lese majeste law already protects the monarchy, but the group wants the penalties under the law reduced.

Responding to the committee’s announcement that it is taking its campaign to the provinces, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said their right to do so should be respected as long as they advocate free expression peacefully.

Democrat Party and opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said the lese majeste issue is sensitive and many people have strong feelings about the matter.

The government should talk with the campaigners to find ways to end the controversy.

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