Woman convicted of posting audio clips on Facebook and YouTube with comments deemed critical of the monarchy.
A Thai court has sentenced a former civil servant to a record 43 years and six months in jail for breaking the country’s strict law on insults or defamation of the monarchy, lawyers have said.
The Bangkok Criminal Court on Tuesday found the woman guilty of 29 counts of violating the country’s lese majesty law for posting audio clips on Facebook and YouTube with comments deemed critical of the law. monarchy, the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights group said.
The condemnation, which comes amid an ongoing protest movement that has drawn unprecedented public criticism from the monarchy, was quickly condemned by rights groups.
“Today’s court verdict is shocking and sends a frightening signal that not only will criticism of the monarchy not be tolerated, but they will also be severely punished,” said Sunai Phasuk, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch.
Violation of Thailand’s lèse majesté law – widely known as Section 112 – carries a sentence of three to 15 years’ imprisonment per count. The law is controversial not only because it has been used to punish things as simple as liking a post on Facebook, but also because anyone – not just royals or authorities – can file a complaint that can bind the accused person to legal action for years.
During the past 15 years of political turmoil in Thailand, the law has been used frequently as a political weapon as well as in personal blood feuds. However, actual public criticism of the monarchy was until recently extremely rare.
That changed over the past year when young protesters calling for democratic reforms also launched calls for reform of the monarchy, which has long been considered an almost sacred institution by many Thais. Protesters said the institution was unaccountable and wielded excessive power in what is supposed to be a democratic constitutional monarchy.
Authorities initially let much of the comments and criticism go without charge, but since November they have arrested around 50 people and charged them with lese majesty.
‘Worse and worse’
Sunai said Tuesday’s sentence was likely meant to send a message.
“You can see that the Thai authorities are using lese majesté prosecutions as a measure of last resort in response to the youth-led democratic uprising that seeks to curb the king’s powers and keep him within constitutional rule. Political tensions in Thailand are now going from bad to worse, ”he said.
After King Maha Vajralongkorn ascended to the throne in 2016 after his father’s death, he informed the government that he did not wish to see the lese majesty law used. But as protests intensified last year and criticism of the monarchy grew harsher, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha warned that a line had been crossed and the law would be used.
The protest movement has lost steam since the arrests and a new restriction on public gatherings that followed an increase in coronavirus cases.
Thai human rights lawyers identified the convicted woman on Tuesday only by her first name Anchan and said she was in her 60s.
The court initially gave her a jail term of 87 years, but then cut it in half because she had pleaded guilty to the offenses.
His case dates back six years, when anti-establishment sentiment was on the rise after a 2014 military coup led by Prayuth. She was held in prison from January 2015 to November 2018.
She denied the charges when her case was first heard in a military court, where lese majesté offenses were prosecuted for a period after the coup. When her case was transferred to the criminal court, she pleaded guilty in the hope that the court would have sympathy for her actions, as she had only shared the audio, not posted or commented, she said. told local media on Tuesday upon arrival. at the court.
“I thought it was nothing. There were so many people who shared this content and listened to it. The guy [who made the content] had been doing it for so many years, ”Anchan said. “So I didn’t really think about it, I was overconfident and I wasn’t paying enough attention to realize at the time that it wasn’t appropriate.
She said she worked as a public servant for 40 years and was arrested a year before retirement and would lose her pension with a conviction.
What would previously have been the longest lèse majesté sentence was handed down in 2017, when a military court sentenced a man to 35 years in prison for social media posts deemed defamatory of the monarchy.
The man, a salesman, was originally sentenced to 70 years, but his sentence was halved after pleading guilty.