BANGKOK (AFP) – Forced overseas to avoid arrest for defaming the Thai monarchy, members of a theatre group say the ruling junta has mired the kingdom in a witch-hunt as it ramps up prosecutions under the country’s notorious lese majeste laws.
Two people are already in custody for roles in a performance of “The Wolf Bride” – a satire set in a fictional kingdom – which sparked a cascade of complaints for allegedly slandering Thailand’s royal family.
Police are hunting at least six others for violating “112” – the feared article of the Thai criminal code which carries up to 15 years in jail for each count of insulting, threatening or defaming the king, queen, heir or regent.
Of those on the wanted list, at least two have fled Thailand, joining dozens of academics, activists and political opponents of the coup in self-exile amid a surge in “112” cases since royalist generals seized power in May.
“There’s a fog over the kingdom,” a member of the activist “Prakai Fai” (Sparking Fire) theatre group at the centre of the controversy told AFP from outside of Thailand, requesting anonymity.
“But we have to accept that Thailand still has laws that block critical opinions, laws that shut people’s mouths.”
The Wolf Bride was performed in October 2013, several months before the coup, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of a student uprising at Bangkok’s liberal Thammasat University.
Student Patiwat Saraiyaem, 23, and Porntip Mankong, 26, face jail after pleading guilty to a breach of article 112 for their roles – as an actor and co-producer respectively.
They have been in custody since their arrest in August.
The case is just one of many driven through by a junta which says it must champion the monarchy – led by revered but ailing 87-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej – while simultaneously reshaping Thailand’s political landscape.