Protesters defy ban, arrests to rally in central Bangkok for a fourth day, as prime minister suggests talks.
At least 30,000 prisoners in Thailand have been pardoned, and 200,000 others will have their sentences reduced following a royal decree issued on the eve of the birthday of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
The Royal Gazette announced on Friday that the current King Maha Vajiralongkorn issued the pardons and amnesties nationwide to mark his father’s date of birth on Saturday.
According to the Bangkok Post, newsman Sorrayuth Suthassanachinda, red-shirt protest leader Nattawut Saikuar and former commerce minister Boonsong Teriyapirom are among those whose sentences will be cut short.
Sorrayuth was sentenced to eight years in prison earlier this year, after an associate reportedly failed to disclose excess income from TV commercials during his news programme in the early 2000s.
Meanwhile, Nattawut was jailed for his political activities in support of former prime ministers, Thaksin and his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra.
However, Nattawut could still return to jail after his expected release before the end of the year due to other charges against him.
Boonsong, a former commerce minister, got 48 years for his involvement in the alleged anomaly on rice trading during Yingluck’s term.
According to the Post, the Department of Corrections currently has 247,557 convicts who qualify for sentence reductions out of a total of 344,161 inmates.
Since ascending the throne in Thailand, King Maha Vajiralongkorn has faced an unprecedented challenge to his rule, with hundreds of thousands of protesters calling for reform of the monarchy and give up control of the royal fortune.
Following a series of protests, which also calls for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha, police have summoned activist leaders to face charges of insulting the monarchy.
It was the first time such charges have been brought under so-called “lese majeste” laws that cover insults to the royal family in more than two years – a move seen as a warning to anti-government protesters.
Thailand has one of the harshest royal defamation laws in the world. It is routinely interpreted to include any criticism of the monarchy – including content posted or shared on social media.
Under section 112 of Thailand’s penal code, anyone convicted of defaming, insulting or threatening the king, queen or heir faces between three and 15 years in prison on each count.