Thai students and other activists have staged a series of escalating pro-democracy protests in recent months, drawing some of the biggest crowds since the country’s last coup in 2014. Their demands initially focused on constitutional reforms and new elections, after last year’s vote was widely seen as skewed toward a party aligned with the military. The demonstrators also called for an impartial investigation into the apparent abductions and murders of anti-government activists living abroad. Several Thai dissidents who had been living in Laos disappeared last year, while the bodies of others were found in the Mekong River, disemboweled and filled with concrete.
But as the recent uprising has grown in size and spread across the country, reaching educational institutions and other locales in smaller towns far away from Bangkok, the protesters have increasingly taken aim at the third rail of Thai politics: the monarchy.
The Thai king is technically a constitutional figurehead, but in reality, the royal palace has long played a major role in government. Those who criticize it risk long jail sentences under Thailand’s harsh lese majeste law, as well as a recent internet security law, the Computer-Related Crime Act, passed during military rule in 2016. And many Thais genuinely revere the royal family.