Witch-hunts must end

More than forty years ago, anti-monarchy accusations were among the propaganda tools used by far-right elements against student activists in the lead-up to the crackdown and massacre of at least 41 of them in October 1976.

Today, it is worrying to see the same disturbing tactic being employed to target Future Forward Party (FFP) spokeswoman Pannika Wanich.

Ms Pannika has become the subject of an anti-monarchy witch-hunt because she is a popular figure in the FFP, a party which has been accused of harbouring anti-monarchy sentiments for the past year.

Given its progressive and liberal stance, the FFP has been viewed suspiciously by ultra royalists, conservatives and pro-military people. Before Ms Pannika, its leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul were also accused of being anti-monarchists based mostly on fake news and doctored video clips.

Last week, Ms Pannika was criticised by regime-appointed Senator Porntip Rojanasunan for not wearing all-black clothing during a parliamentary session to show respect for the late president of the Privy Council Gen Prem Tinsulanonda. Ms Pannika was dressed in black and white. The senator went further by accusing her, during an interview on a TV news programme, of expressing her anti-monarchy feelings with the clothing. That was a strong and damaging allegation based on a very trivial thing.

Then, last weekend, a few photos taken on Ms Pannika's graduation day in 2010 were widely shared on social media and circulated among pro-regime Facebook pages. One of them features her friend pointing to a book cover featuring a portrait of the late King Bhumibol while Ms Pannika looks on.

The picture has stirred criticism from royalists and junta supporters who accused Ms Pannika of an "inappropriate gesture". The issue was blown out of proportion when an MP from the pro-junta Palang Pracharath Party, Parina Kraikup, accused her of violating the lese majeste law, or Section 112 of the Criminal Code. The violation under this law carries a harsh maximum punishment of up to 15 years in jail.

Then, there have been efforts to dig up old posts from Ms Pannika's social media accounts, trying to portray them as anti-monarchist.

Ms Parina's accusation must be treated with scepticism.

The use of the lese majeste law as a political tool usually takes place at the peak of a prolonged political conflict. After the 1976 massacre, its exploitation lessened. But its use increased again in the lead up to the 2006 coup and the decade that has followed, this time against former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and many red-shirt protesters. After the 2014 coup, a large number of anti-military activists also faced the same lese majeste charges. Many have ended up in jail.

Given that law enforcement officers usually treat this kind of accusation as a national security issue and proceed with lese majeste cases no matter how weak or obscure the accusations are, the law has been used as an effective political tool.

The police must handle this case with care and not let political sentiment become involved. Anti-monarchy witch-hunts will only cause more problems for the country's chronic political conflict, and they will not provide any solutions.

These witch-hunts need to be stopped, otherwise they will only bode ill for society, deepening the hatred among people with opposing political ideologies.

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