BANGKOK (AP) — A court in Thailand yesterday sentenced a former civil servant to a record prison term of 43 years and six months for breaching the country’s strict law on insulting or defaming the monarchy, lawyers said.
The Bangkok Criminal Court found the woman guilty on 29 counts of violating the country’s lese majeste law for posting audio clips to Facebook and YouTube with comments deemed critical of the monarchy, the group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said.
The sentence 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 senior researcher for the group Human Rights Watch Sunai Phasuk.
Violating Thailand’s lese majeste law — known widely as Article 112 — is punishable by 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 lodge a complaint that can tie the person accused up in legal proceedings for years.
During Thailand’s last 15 years of political unrest, the law has frequently been as a political weapon as well as in personal vendettas. Actual public criticism of the monarchy, however, had until recently been extremely rare.
That changed during the past year, when young protesters calling for democratic reforms also issued calls for the reform of the monarchy.
Authorities at first let much of the commentary and criticism go without charge, but since November has arrested about 50 people and charged them with lese majeste.
Sunai said yesterday’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 bound of constitutional rule. Thailand’s political tensions will now go from bad to worse,” he said.