Thai protesters defy rally ban to demand leaders’ release | Thailand News

The youth-led protest movement that started last year has been reinvigorated by the arrests of prominent protest leaders.

Hundreds of protesters gathered in Thailand’s capital Bangkok to demand that authorities release some protest leaders from prison, defying a Friday order banning public gatherings in the city.

A youth-led protest movement sprang up last year calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, former head of the military government, and reform of the powerful monarchy. Thai courts have rejected recent bail requests from some of the jailed protest leaders.

“Free our friends,” protesters shouted in unison on Saturday as they gathered outside a criminal court surrounded by barbed wire. A water cannon could be seen behind the courtyard gates.

“Abolish 112,” they also said, referring to Thailand’s lese majesty law, or section 112 of the Thai penal code, which prohibits anyone from insulting or defaming the king.

Some protesters burned photographs of the king during the rally. Separate groups also led two other protests in other parts of Bangkok.

Earlier on Saturday, police warned protesters they risk being arrested and that police could use tougher measures if protesters become unruly.

“The protests are illegal. Anyone who joins or invites others to join him is breaking the law, ”Piya Tavichai, deputy commissioner of the Bangkok Metropolitan Police Bureau, told a press conference.

Anti-government protesters write slogan on a street during a protest demanding the release of arrested leaders accused of lese majesté law in Bangkok [Jorge Silva/Reuters]

Police used rubber bullets for the first time last Sunday, along with tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters. Ten protesters and 26 police officers were injured.

In a podcast on Saturday morning, the prime minister urged Thais to obey the law and avoid conflict.

“We must love and be united, undivided, and obey the law,” said Prayuth, who came to power after leading a military coup in 2014.

The royal palace declined to comment directly on the protests, but Prayuth and government officials said criticism of the king was illegal and inappropriate.

The youth-led political movement was launched last year. But it lost speed when it took a hiatus in December and January, as Thailand hit a second wave of coronavirus infections.

However, the recent arrest of four prominent protest leaders has reignited pro-democracy protests.

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