Thai activist sentenced to 28 years for online posts about king: NPR
BANGKOK — A Thai court on Thursday sentenced a 27-year-old political activist to 28 years in prison for posting Facebook posts he said defamed the country’s monarchy, while two young women accused of the same offense continued a strike hunger after being hospitalized.
The court in the northern province of Chiang Rai found that Mongkhon Thirakot had violated lèse-majesté law in 14 of the 27 positions for which he was arrested last August. The law covers the current king, his queen and heirs, and any regent.
The lèse-majesté law carries a prison sentence of three to 15 years per incident for insulting the monarchy, but critics say it is often used as a tool to stifle political dissent. Student-led pro-democracy protests beginning in 2020 openly criticized the previously taboo monarchy, leading to vigorous prosecutions under the law, which was previously relatively rarely employed.
Since November 2020, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, a legal aid organization, at least 228 people, including 18 minors, have been charged with breaking the law, even as the protest movement waned due to the arrests and difficulties leading protests during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Chiang Rai court found that 13 messages posted by Mongkhon, an online clothing merchant, did not break the law because they related to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the father of the current King Maha Vajiralongkorn, or did not did not mention a specific royal figure. Mongkhon was found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison for each of the other 14 positions. The total prison sentence of 42 years was reduced by a third, to 28 years, thanks to Mongkhon’s cooperation with the court.
Mongkhon was released on bail while his case is on appeal, on the condition that he does not engage in acts that undermine the monarchy or leave the country.
Lèse-majesté lawsuits have recently drawn public attention due to a hunger strike in prison led by two activists accused of the offence.
The two, Tantawan “Tawan” Tuatulanon and Orawan “Bam” Phupong, had been released on bail but announced earlier this month that they were revoking their own release to return to prison in solidarity with other inmates awaiting release. trial for the same charge. They issued demands that included reforming the judiciary, releasing political prisoners, and restoring civil liberties by abolishing laws such as lèse-majesté.
After three days back in prison, they went on a hunger strike during which they did not consume food or liquids, a potentially deadly tactic. On Tuesday, they were transferred from the prison hospital to a better equipped public hospital.
As their strike continued, supporters staged small protests.
The opposition party Move Forward, which offered its support, proposed amending the lèse-majesté law, but no action was taken in parliament.
The proposal would reduce the penalty for defaming the king to a maximum of one year in prison and a fine of up to 300,000 baht ($9,160), while an offense against the queen, the king’s heirs or the regent would face a maximum of six – one month in prison and a fine of up to 200,000 baht ($6,100).
“Thailand’s entire judicial system has a problem, as does the application of the lèse-majesté law, which is also used as a political tool. Thailand must solve this problem and improve its distorted judicial system,” said said Pita Limjaroenrat, leader of the party. .