Hundreds of protesters have rallied in Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, against a decision by a top court that ruled calling for royal reforms amounted to a bid to overthrow the country’s ultra-powerful monarchy.
The Constitutional Court – which critics have long said is politicised – said on Wednesday that three prominent protest leaders had made speeches that “aim to overthrow the constitutional monarchy”.
While the court’s decision does not result in criminal penalties for the protest leaders, observers say the ruling could shrink an already narrow space for activists campaigning for reform of the monarchy.
Defying a ban on gatherings on Sunday, protesters assembled in Bangkok’s main shopping district to rail against the decision, holding signs that said they do not want an absolute monarchy.
“We are not overthrowing this country. The reform is to make it better,” shouted protest leader Thatchapong Kaedam, as demonstrators waved placards that said “Reform does not equal overthrow”.
Police briefly clashed with some demonstrators, firing rubber bullets which hit at least one protester who was bleeding from his chest, reports said. The injured man was rushed into an ambulance.
The city’s Erawan Emergency Centre said at least two people were injured, though no details were given about their condition.
Earlier in the day, police had warned rallygoers against gathering.
“We want the public to focus on how to use their rights and freedoms but not violate laws which were ruled by the Constitutional Court,” said Bangkok police spokesman Jirasant Kaewsangake.
By nightfall, protesters had marched to the German embassy – a commentary on King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s frequent stays in the European country – and submitted a letter to the embassy expressing concerns about a return to absolutism.
The king flew to the country this week, according to German media – his first trip abroad in more than a year.
“The word ‘reform’ is not equivalent to abolition,” said protester Peeyawith Ploysuwan, 25. “You [authorities] only want to do the things you desire and see people with opposing views as bad guys … If society continues like this, how can we move forward?”
Youth-led protests that began last year by calling for the removal of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, 67, a former coup leader, have become the biggest challenge in decades to the monarchy which is constitutionally enshrined to be held in “revered worship”.
The demonstrations have broken longstanding taboos in Thailand, whose strict lese majeste law sets jail terms of up to 15 years for anyone convicted of defaming the monarchy.
Since the protests began, at least 157 people have been charged under the law, according to records compiled by the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights group.