Campaigners pushing for changes to the lese majeste law submitted an amendment bill along with the signatures of almost 27,000 backers to parliament yesterday.
A man takes part in a procession bringing boxes containing the signatures of nearly 27,000 eligible voters who want the lese majeste law amended to parliament. His face is painted with the words "Ah Kong", the nickname of a lese majeste inmate who died in prison earlier this month. (Photo by Thiti Wannamontha)
The Campaign Committee for the Amendment of Article 112 called on parliamentarians to give impartial consideration to the proposed bill, which they said is an initiative of ordinary people.
About 200 campaigners and their supporters began a symbolic march at the Royal Plaza, from the spot where an plaque marking the 1932 revolution that changed absolute monarchy to the constitutional one was embedded in the street.
From there, they carried boxes containing 26,968 signatures gathered from people nationwide who support the amendment to parliament.
Section 163 of the constitution allows people who can gather more than 10,000 supporting signatures to propose a bill for consideration in parliament.
One of the campaigners, retired historian Charnvit Kasetsiri, said the move to amend Section 112 follows on from the democratisation path set forth after the revolution 80 years ago.
Four parliamentarians _ Deputy House Speaker Wisut Chainarun, Surin MP Prasit Chaisrisa, Khon Kaen MP Cherdchai Tontisirin and Bangkok MP Jarupan Kuladiloke _ met them to receive the bill.
Mr Charnvit said the campaigners want parliament to give due consideration to the "people's bill" within the constitutional and legal framework.
Chulalongkorn University political scientist Puangthong Pawakapan, who signed the petition, said the lese majeste law in its current form has led to violations of basic human rights and freedom of expression.
She said the outcomes of the application of the law can even be fatal, such as in the case of Ampon Tangnoppakul, or Uncle SMS, who died while imprisoned on lese majeste offences earlier this month.
Ms Puangthong also briefed the parliamentarians about key changes to the lese majeste law proposed in the draft bill, among them reducing the maximum penalty from 15 to three years and designating the Office of His Majesty's Principal Private Secretary to file lawsuits instead of allowing anybody to sue anyone, as in the current law.
Mr Wisut said parliament had no bias against a people-proposed bill since it had accepted other draft bills before.
"It might take more than a couple of months because there are more signatures than required [by the law] and the authorities need to verify all of them," said Mr Wisut.
Mr Charnvit told reporters after submitting the draft bill and the signatures that he was not worried about the signature validation.
He said there were actually some 40,000 people who signed up during the 112-day campaign for the amendment but they could not provide all the necessary documents such as copies of their house registration in time.
"What I am concerned about is that MPs and senators as well as the government might be reluctant to support the people's bill for fear of political backlash," said Mr Charnvit.
He argued that amending the lese majeste law would help sustain the monarchy into the future.
He also called on parliamentarians to exercise their utmost integrity and not allow bias to get in the way of consideration of the bill.