Thailand court gives record 43-year sentence for insulting king
(Sourced from PTI)
A Thailand court on Tuesday sentenced a former civil servant, identified by her first name Anchan, to a record prison term of 43 years and six months for breaching the country's strict lese majeste law on insulting or defaming the monarchy, lawyers said. The court initially announced her sentence as 87 years but reduced it by half because she pleaded guilty to the offenses.
Violation of Thailand's lese majeste law, known widely as Article 112, is punishable by three to 15 years imprisonment per count. The Bangkok Criminal Court found the woman guilty on 29 counts of violating the law for posting audio clips to Facebook and YouTube with comments deemed critical of the monarchy, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said.
The sentence, which comes amid an ongoing protest movement that has seen unprecedented public criticism of the monarchy, was swiftly condemned by rights groups. "Today's court verdict is shocking and sends a spine-chilling signal that not only criticisms of the monarchy won't be tolerated, but they will also be severely punished," said Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher for the group Human Rights Watch.
Anchan was first arrested in 2015 when anti-establishment sentiment was growing after a 2014 military coup led by Primi Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha but was granted bail in 2018. She pleaded guilty in the criminal court hoping that it would show sympathy because she only shared the audio, not posted or commented on it, she told local media on Tuesday on her arrival at court.
The law has been used to punish something as simple as liking a Facebook post. Moreover, under the law anyone can lodge a complaint that can tie the accused up in legal proceedings for years, making it a controversial law. During Thailand's last 15 years of political unrest, the law has frequently been used both as a political weapon and in personal vendettas.
However, public criticism of the monarchy which had until recently been extremely rare, changed last year when young protesters called for democratic reforms. They also issued calls for the reform of the monarchy, which has long been regarded as an almost sacred institution. They said the institution is unaccountable and holds too much power in what is supposed to be a democratic constitutional monarchy.
But the protest movement has lost steam since the arrests and new restrictions on public gatherings that followed a surge in coronavirus cases. Authorities at first let much of the commentary and criticism go without charge, but since November have arrested about 50 people and charged them with lese majeste. Phasuk said Tuesday's sentence was likely meant to send a message.
"It can be seen that Thai authorities are using lese majeste prosecution as their last resort measure in response to the youth-led democracy uprising that seeks to curb the king's powers and keep him within the bounds of constitutional rule," said Phasuk.
After King Maha Vajralongkorn took the throne in 2016, he said that he did not wish to see the law used. But as the protests grew last year, and the criticism of the monarchy got harsher, Prayuth Chan-ocha warned a line had been crossed and the law would be used. Thailand's political tensions will now go from bad to worse, Sunai added.
The previous longest lese majeste sentence was issued in 2017 when a military court sentenced a salesman to 35 years in prison for social media posts deemed defamatory to the monarchy. He had been sentenced to 70 years, but it reduced after he pleaded guilty.