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Why Thailand is cracking down on activists wearing crop tops

Wearing a crop top is not a crime in Thailand but activists who have sported the garment have touched a nerve amongst authorities, who are being accused of cracking down on free expression.

 
Why crop tops?
Back in 2020, during a period of sustained political unrest, activists staged a protest in Silom, one of Bangkok's nightlife areas, called the People's Catwalk. It was part fashion show, part protest and one of the participants who took to the catwalk that night wore a skimpy black crop top, similar to the one seen worn by Thailand's king, Maha Vajiralongkorn, on trips to Germany and Switzerland.
 
At the core of the widespread protests initiated by the country's students was an appeal to limit the power of Thailand's king.
 
However, several activists, including the 16-year-old who wore the black crop top in the 2020 protest show, have been indicted on charges of lese-majeste, a crime which carries up to 15 years in prison according to The Financial Times.
 
What is lese-majeste?
Essentially lese-majeste is a wide ban on insulting the monarchy. Thailand's lese-majeste law is one of the strictest in the world, with the country's military responsible for enforcing it.
 
According to The Diplomat, between November 2020 and August 2021, 124 individuals were charged under Article 112 of Thailand's constitution for defaming, insulting or threatening the king, the queen, the heir to the throne, or the regency in Thailand.
 
Eight of them were under the age of 18.
 
Critics point out that the laws are vague as to what constitutes an insult and police are required by law to investigate every complaint of lese-majeste. The United Nations has repeatedly called on Thailand to review its lese-majeste laws.
 
Part of a growing crackdown
Since November 2021, the media has effectively been banned from reporting on or discussing reforming the monarchy. Activists have been denied bail and some have had their passports revoked.
 
"The level of oppression has gone to a new high," Sunai Phasuk told The FT. "This is not just about targeting activist or NGOs or human rights groups or media; this is about shutting down the civic space entirely."
 
Seven people including two teenagers who were wearing crop tops were charged with lese-majeste at a protest in Bangkok mall in December 2020.
 
While Thailand's king has never been seen sporting the crop tops in public in his home country, photographers have captured him wearing the skimpy tops showing his midriff while holidaying in Europe. The images were shared widely on social media, but pro-monarchists hit back saying they were fake.
 
Thailand's monarchy plays an important and central role in Thai society. The current king, Maha Vajiralongkorn, has been on the throne since 2016 after taking over from his father, Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died the same year. King Bhumibol was a widely-revered figure who sat on the throne for 70 years.

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