Amid Thailand’s Protests, a Feared Tool to Protect the Monarchy Returns

Amid Thailand’s Protests, a Feared Tool to Protect the Monarchy Returns

Amid Thailand’s Protests, a Feared Tool to Protect the Monarchy Returns

Amid Thailand’s Protests, a Feared Tool to Protect the Monarchy Returns

The robust criticism, particularly from Thailand’s youth, has appalled royalists and left Mr. Prayuth, a retired general who justified the 2014 coup as necessary to protect the monarchy, contending with a rapidly shifting landscape.

“Any defamation law depends on what society thinks is OK and not OK, but in Thailand, we’ve had this oceanic change and what was lèse-majesté and defamation yesterday might not be what it is today,” said David Streckfuss, an independent scholar who has studied the application of Section 112 over the years.

“When we look back 10 years from now at the decline of the monarchy, we might say that this moment, of using 112, was a big misstep, a self-inflicted wound, which is what often happens with fading institutions,” he added.

Thailand abolished absolute monarchy in 1932, but deference to the king was institutionalized for decades, especially under King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s father, Bhumibol Adulyadej, who reigned for 70 years and was seen by the United States as a bulwark against the communist revolutions sweeping the region.

Images of both monarchs, who are envisaged as semi-divine beings, are ubiquitous across the country, from giant billboards near international airports to smaller portraits in shophouses. When politicians are given an audience with the monarch, they typically prostrate themselves and slide sideways to show their respect.

The royal anthem is played at many public events, even at movie theaters, and people were conditioned to stand in respect or face possible consequences. (That has changed in recent weeks, with far fewer people rising to greet a photo montage of the king at cinemas.)


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