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Strict royal insults law at UN rights review

The government defended the controversial law criminalising criticism of the powerful monarchy on Wednesday, as United Nations member states expressed concern over the country’s rights record and arrests of youth protesters pushing for royal reforms since last year.

Thailand has one of the world’s harshest “lese majeste” laws, setting jail terms of up to 15 years for anyone convicted of defaming, insulting or threatening His Majesty the King and his closest family.

During a universal periodic review on Wednesday by a working group of the UN Human Rights Council, the government was urged to amend the lese majeste law by some member states who said it restricted freedom of expression.

Officials, however, argued it protects the monarch and therefore national security, and that royal insult cases were carefully handled.

“It reflects the culture and history of Thailand, where the monarchy is one of the main pillars of the nation, highly revered by the majority of Thai people,” Nadhavathna Krishnamra, a Foreign Ministry representative, told the meeting.

“Its existence is closely linked to safeguarding the key national institutions and national security.”

The royal family is officially above politics and the king constitutionally enshrined to be held in “revered worship”.

Since student protests began last year, at least 156 people, including 13 minors, have been charged with lese majeste, according to records compiled by the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights group.

At the UN review, Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland were among those which called for the government to amend or review the law.

The United States said it was “concerned by the expanded use” of the lese majeste law and its impact on freedom of expression.

Political parties last week made public their positions on amending the lese majeste law, after Pheu Thai proposed a parliamentary review, triggering a discussion off-limits for decades.

The Constitutional Court earlier on Wednesday ruled that three activists who last year called for royal reforms, including abolition of the lese majeste law, had violated the constitution with a “hidden intention” to overthrow the monarchy. 

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