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Thailand protesters gather for Harry Potter-themed demonstrations against monarchy

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Protesters wearing “Harry Potter” gowns and scarves and waving magic wands took to the streets of the Thai capital Bangkok yesterday to demand changes to the monarchy.

Speakers at a Thai anti-government protest called for the monarchy’s powers to be curbed in unusually frank public comments, as defaming the royal family is punishable by up to 15 years in prison under Thailand’s lese majeste law.

The six speakers were not stopped by police, but any suspected offences will be investigated.

The outfits from the popular Harry Potter franchise which were worn by many of the 200 protestors, in reference to the increasing injustices of the military-backed government.

A pro-democracy protester dressed as a wizard during a Harry Potter-themed protest demanding the resignation of Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha in Bangkok (REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha)

Anon Nampa, a 34-year-old lawyer, accused the palace of using increasing powers to undermine democracy, and critiqued the inaction in the face of attacks on opponents of the government of prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former junta leader.

After Maha Vajiralongkorn took the throne in 2016, the palace revised a new constitution, giving him greater emergency powers, and the king has since taken personal control of some army units and palace assets worth tens of billions of dollars.

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Other activists have complained of harassment by authorities, stating at least nine opposition figures living abroad have disappeared, with two later found dead.

Speaking to the group of approximately 200 protestors, Mr Anon said: “Talking about this is not an act to topple the monarchy, but to allow the monarchy to exist in Thai society in the right way and legitimately under a democratic and a constitutional monarchy.”

Two student groups then read out demands including: “Cancelling and reforming the laws that expand the power of the monarch and that could impinge on democracy where the king is the head of state.”

Pro-democracy protesters dressed as wizards attend a Harry Porter-themed protest demanding the resignation of Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha in Bangkok (REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha)

The palace has not responded in response to the criticism, and a deputy government spokeswoman said it was up to police whether to act against the protestors.

Ratchada Thanadirek said: “The government wants the young protesters to observe the laws so that they can continue to exercise their rights to make their demands and the country can stay peaceful.”

The students from Kaset and Mahanakorn universities also demanded authorities amend laws banning criticism of the monarchy.

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There are now regular student protests demanding the resignation of Prayuth’s government, and creation of a new constitution, although never has there been such open criticism of the monarchy.

A police officer, Surapong Thammapitak, said: “We cannot yet determine what offences have been committed … Any offences under any laws will be processed for the investigators.”

Prayuth said in a speech in June that there have been no prosecutions under the “lese majeste” laws recently, at the king’s request, but warned against criticising the monarchy.

Paul Chambers, who teaches international affairs at Thailand’s Naresuan University said: “Such open criticism of Thailand’s monarch by non-elites at a public place within Thailand – with the police simply standing by – is the first of its kind in Thai history.”

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