HUNDREDS OF Thais rallied yesterday in provinces in the South, Northeast and North to protest against "critical" remarks made by the US ambassador to Thailand last week about Article 112 of the Thai Penal Code or lese majeste law.
Protesters held placards in Phuket, Chiang Mai, Nakhon Ratchasima, Buri Ram, Trang, Surat Thani, Krabi and Chaiyaphum provinces, while calling on the Foreign Ministry to take action against such remarks.
Meanwhile, US Ambassador Glyn Davies, speaking at a pre-scheduled press conference on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade agreement, said he preferred not to comment on political issues.
But, he said he wished to see all Thais enjoy the freedom to express their opinions in a democratic and peaceful manner.
He added that he had great respect for Their Majesties, and would participate in the “Bike for Dad” event on December 11. He said that although he has ordered a new bicycle, he may not be able to complete the entire 29-kilometre route.
The envoy said he had a photo of His Majesty the King and late Elvis Presley on the wall at his residence.
During a speech at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Bangkok last week, Davies expressed concern about the “unprecedented” prison terms handed down under the lese majeste law, saying nobody should be jailed for peacefully expressing their opinions.
“We’re also concerned by the lengthy and unprecedented prison sentences handed down by Thai military courts against civilians for violating the lese majeste law,” Davies told the sold-out event last Wednesday.
Maitri Boonyoung, president of Krabi province’s Love-the-King Club and a protest leader, submitted a letter to the provincial governor, to complain that Davies had criticised Thai law during his speech at the FCCT, by suggesting that the lese majeste law was an obstacle to freedom of expression and the penalties under this law far too harsh.
In Phuket, protest leader Mongkol Rattana said the lese majeste law aimed to protect the monarchy, and noted that the US has a similar law to protect the president.
In a letter submitted to the provincial governor, Mongkol and some 150 protesters also called on the Foreign Ministry to take retaliatory action in response to the remarks.
The letter said that criticising Thai law publicly was not diplomatic to the host country. In Chaiyaphum, a statement issued by protest leader Sataporn Siripomma said the US ambassador should take responsibility for what he said, that he should get a better understanding of Thai culture, and stop interfering in Thai internal affairs.
Suraphol Vichaidit, president of Trang province’s Love-the-King Club and another protest leader, said Davies should respect Thai laws – his remarks had dissatisfied Thai people. He said the Foreign Ministry would be given a week or two to take retaliatory measures and if there was no action the protesters would consider their next move.
Meanwhile, Deputy PM and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan suggested that the US envoy should have “second thoughts” before making such critical remarks about the lese majeste law, while insisting that the military government is following a road map for the country to return to a democratic path.
Prawit said the National Council for Peace and Order, which took over in the May 2014 coup, was doing its best to prepare for a new general election.