Over two days of video calls earlier this month, about a dozen students from Thailand’s Kasetsart and Mahanakorn universities debated whether to break a taboo that could land them in jail: openly challenging the country’s powerful monarchy, according to two people on the calls. Protesters on the streets and online have made a growing number of veiled references to King Maha Vajiralongkorn over the last few months as they push for greater democracy, but nobody had dared make a public call for changes at the palace. The students discussed on the calls a Harry Potter wizard-themed protest and considered stopping short of open confrontation by only mentioning “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named,” a reference to Potter’s archenemy in the J.K. Rowling books, the two participants said. The argument for a clearer – but riskier – statement won out. On the evening of Monday, Aug. 3, human rights lawyer Anon Nampa, 35, took the stage at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument and called for the palace’s powers to be curbed, an extremely rare event. “No other democratic countries allow the king to have this much power over the military,” he told about 200 protesters, with police standing by as he spoke. “This increases the risk that a monarchy in a democracy could become an absolute monarchy.” While the country has been roiled by decades of political turmoil, street protesters have not previously sought changes to the monarchy, which the constitution says must be held “in a position of revered worship.” Any form of challenge to the monarchy was extremely rare under Vajiralongkorn’s father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in 2016 after 70 years on the throne. Neither Anon nor any of the protesters have been charged with breaking Thailand’s ‘lese majeste’ law, which punishes criticism of the monarchy by up to 15 years in prison. However, on Friday Aug. 7 police said Anon was taken into custody and charged with several offences relating to a separate protest on July 18, including “raising unrest and disaffection amongst the people,” which carries a maximum seven-year sentence. Anon has denied all charges, said his lawyer Weeranan Huadsri. He was freed on bail on Saturday. The Royal Palace declined to comment on the protests or the more outspoken calls for royal powers to be curbed. Defence Ministry spokesman Kongcheep Tantrawanit said: “Don’t draw the monarchy into conflict, it is not appropriate. The monarchy is a centre of unity for the Thai people.” Swept under the rug Anon’s open call for reform underscored the scale and speed of change in Thailand as some members of a new generation take on an establishment tied to the close relationship between the palace and the army. The king, a former army officer, is officially commander-in-chief of the armed forces. “This is an issue that people want to talk about,” said Patsalawalee Tanakitwiboonpon, a 24-year-old engineering student at Mahanakorn University who helped plan and spoke at the protest on Monday. “It has been swept under the rug for so long. So we think it is better if we can talk about this issue rationally and in the open.” The latest series of protests have grown from a handful of peaceful, online-organized flash mobs, mostly on university campuses, to dozens of street demonstrations across Thailand and millions of people following hashtags online such as #FreeYouth. The reaction from authorities, so far, has been limited. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who first took power in a 2014 military coup, told reporters on Aug. 4, the day after Anon’s speech, that the government was open to talking to the students. He said on June 15 that the king had requested no prosecutions under the lese majeste law. Army chief Apirat Kongsompong was not so conciliatory. In a speech to cadets on Aug. 5, he said: “COVID is a curable disease, but hating the nation, hating one’s own country, this a disease that is not curable.” On Aug. 4, the day after the protest, Anon told Reuters he was “not too worried” about being arrested. He had planned to speak out about the monarchy at two further protests in coming days, according to his Facebook page. The police said in a statement on Friday that Anon and another organizer were arrested because it had received complaints about the July 18 protest and that an investigation was under way. Police declined to say who had complained or describe the nature of the complaints. The police did not explain why Anon had not been charged under the lese majeste law for his speech at the Aug. 3 protest.