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Thai activist jailed over royal posts

A 27-year-old activist has been sentenced to nearly three decades in prison by a court that found he defamed Thailand’s monarchy in several Facebook posts.

January 28, 2023
By Chalida Ekvitthayavechnukul
28 January 2023

A court in Thailand has sentenced a 27-year-old political activist to 28 years in prison for posting messages on Facebook that it says defamed the country’s monarchy.

The court in the northern province of Chiang Rai on Thursday found Mongkhon Thirakot violated the lese majeste law in 14 of 27 posts for which he was arrested in August. 

The law covers the current king, his queen and heirs, and any regent.

The lese majeste law carries a prison term of three to 15 years per incident for insulting the monarchy, but critics say it is often wielded as a tool to quash political dissent.

Student-led pro-democracy protests beginning in 2020 openly criticised the monarchy, previously a taboo subject, leading to vigorous prosecutions under the law, which had previously been relatively rarely employed.

The court found that 13 messages posted by Mongkhon, an online clothing merchant, did not violate the law because they related to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the father of current King Maha Vajiralongkorn, or did not mention a specific royal figure.

Mongkhon was found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison for each of the other 14 posts. The 42-year total prison term was reduced by one third, to 28 years, because of Mongkhon’s cooperation with the court.

He was granted release on bail while his case in on appeal, under the conditions that he does not engage in acts that damage the monarchy or leave the country.

Prosecutions under the lese majeste law have recently drawn increased public attention because of a prison hunger strike by two female activists charged with the offence.

Since November 2020, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, a legal aid organisation, at least 228 people, including 18 minors, have been charged with violating the law, even as the protest movement withered due to arrests and the difficulties of conducting protests during the COVID-19 pandemic..

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