In the middle: Tantawan being taken into a police car on 5 March.

Activist arrested for live broadcasting at a royal procession

The state’s strict stance guarding royal processions has been underlined once again as an activist was arrested and charged with lèse majesté and violation of the Computer Crime Act for live-streaming herself at a royal procession and questioning the priorities of the police and the King as protesters were cleared from the route. 

Tantawan and a roll of sticky tape with 'Abolish [Section] 112' written on it.

On 6 March, Nang Loeng Police Station charged Tantawan ‘Tawan’ Tuatulanon, 20, an activist on the issue of monarchy reform and abolition of the lèse majesté law, with 5 counts of resisting officers, violating the Computer Crimes Act and royal defamation for her actions on 5 March. She was sent to court for a temporary detention order on 7 March.

On the evening of 5 March, Tantawan was arrested on Ratchadamnoen Nok Road, the route of King Vajiralongkorn’s procession.

Her Facebook livestream shows her questioning the way the authorities cleared the road in preparation for the procession by removing protesting farmers who had been living in a makeshift shelter on the footpath for 3 months, demanding that the government solve the agricultural debt problem, a promise they had made 2 decades ago.

In her live broadcast, Tantawan expressed her excitement at seeing real horses from the cavalry and questioning the perspective of the King and police in clearing the protesters away from the scene instead of coming to listen to their grievances. Her insistence on broadcasting live despite police orders for her to stop led to her arrest 49 minutes into the broadcast.

The broadcast included phrases like “What route is this? Can I see the horses? Can I look at the horses? Can I come for a close look?”, “The farmers’ protest has to move … so you should know that the farmers’ protest must be moved because one person is coming”, and “Let’s remember that the farmers’ protest has to move. Instead of going to listening to their problems, they have chased them off just because one person is coming. So let’s remember, between the people and the monarch, who is more important.”

The broadcast was deemed by the police to negatively affect the King, possibly causing viewers to hate the King and to misunderstand the situation because the farmer protesters willingly stepped aside ahead of the procession.

The arrest was made by about 60 police officers ahead of the motorcade's arrival. Tantawan was taken to Phaya Thai Police Station while still live broadcasting the incident in the police vehicle. Fearing that her supporters would follow her, the police decided to move her to the Police Club on the outskirts of Bangkok in Lak Si.

Tantawan was detained in the Narcotics Suppression Bureau located inside the Police Club from 5 March to 7 March when she has been granted bail on a 100,000-baht security and the conditions that she must not repeat her offense or participate in activities which damage the monarchy, and must wear an electronic monitoring bracelet. 

While waiting for the result of her bail request, officers from Pathumwan Police Station came to notify Tantawan that they have charged her with royal defamation and sedition for conducting a poll on royal motorcades at Siam Paragon on 8 February 2022.

It must be noted that it took almost 2 hours for a lawyer to meet Tantawan after arriving at the Police Club despite the right in the Criminal Code for those arrested to meet a lawyer.

According to Tantawan and her friend who was able meet her before the investigation process, Tantawan was detained with drug-related crime suspects. The royal defamation and Computer Crime offences added to the charge sheet on Sunday, a day after she was charged while detained in the Police Club with resisting officers. The bail process was therefore suspended due to the gravity of the charges.

Throughout her detention, people could be seen in front of the Narcotics Suppression Bureau facility waiting for her release. Red ribbons were tied to the locked entrance gate as a symbol of support.

A royal defamation offense stemming from Tantawan’s live broadcast raised questions about how the law is being given an even wider interpretation by criminalising people who dare to cross the long-time taboo against criticizing the monarchy.

Anon Nampa, human rights lawyer and famous monarchy reform advocate posted on Facebook that the police charge was an insult to the judicial system. The police will be held responsible if the Thai judicial system begins to look untrustworthy in the eyes of the world.

Somsak Jeamteerasakul, an exiled academic well-known as a monarchy critic, posted the charge sheet, highlighting the allegedly offending phrase “...between the people and the monarch, who is more important.”

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), 83 activists and civilians have reported police surveillance and harassment before or during royal processions countrywide in January and February 2022. In 2021, TLHR reported 291 similar cases.

TLHR cited the royal processions as the main reason for the harassment because the police often asked if any action would be staged along the routes of royal processions. The police also put heavy restrictions on targeted individuals to keep them away from the vicinity of royal processions.

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