Thailand

Thai Activists Accused of Endangering Queen After Protest Near Royal Convoy

Pro-democracy demonstrators have defied bans on large gatherings as protests continue.
October 16, 2020, 8:57am
Thailand protests
Pro-democracy activist Bunkueanun "Francis" Paothong poses while holding up the three-finger salute before he entered the Dusit Police Station to answer charges of harming Thailand's Queen Suthida, two days after protesters nearly obstructed a royal motorcade, in Bangkok on Oct. 16, 2020. Photo: Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP

Two Thai activists have been accused of endangering the queen after protesters flashed three-fingered salutes from the "Hunger Games" movies at a royal motorcade this week, as tensions rise over pro-democracy demonstrations banned by the government.

Thailand prohibited gatherings of five or more people in Bangkok after thousands attended protests in the capital on Wednesday, part of an ongoing movement calling for democratic reforms including changes to the powerful monarchy.

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During the event, protesters came close but did not disrupt a motorcade carrying Thailand's Queen Suthida in an unprecedented show of dissent against an institution that has become a flashpoint in demands for democratic norms. They shouted slogans and flashed the three-fingered "Hunger Games" salute, the de facto symbol for the new movement.

The royal family is protected by defamation laws but student protester Francis Bunkueanun Paothong and activist Ekkachai Hongkangwan were reportedly taken into custody under a rarely used charge of "violence against the queen" that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

In an emotional video outside the police station on Friday where he turned himself in, Francis denied he had any intention of harming Queen Suthida, who is married to King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

"To fight this case I have to risk everything in my life," he said, urging others to keep going. "While I still breath, I will be hoping," he added, as he wiped away tears.

More than 20 people have been arrested this week alone, according to a list seen by VICE News.

But protesters have defied the ban on large gatherings. They held large demonstrations in downtown Bangkok on Thursday and another is planned for Friday evening.

The new protest movement began earlier this year with calls for the dissolution of parliament, the drafting of a new constitution and an end to harassment of government critics. But it soon expanded to include several other issues including the ultra-rich monarchy, which until recently was never discussed or debated so openly.

Leaders have also called for the prime minister, Prayut Chan-O-cha, to step down. Prayut led a coup in 2014 and held onto power in elections last year that observers said were tilted towards military-backed parties.