Thai activist jailed 28 years

A court in Thailand sentenced a 27-year-old political activist to 28 years in prison for posting messages on Facebook that it said defamed the country’s monarchy, while two young women charged with the same offence continued a hunger strike after being hospitalised.

The court in the northern province of Chiang Rai found that Mongkhon Thirakot (pic) violated the lese majeste law in 14 of 27 posts for which he was arrested last 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.

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.

The Chiang Rai 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.

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.

The two, Tantawan “Tawan” Tuatulanon and Orawan “Bam” Phupong, had been free on bail but announced earlier this month that they were revoking their own release to return to prison in solidarity with others held pending trial on the same charge.

They issued demands including reform of the justice system, the release of political prisoners and the restoration of civil liberties by abolishing legislation such as the lese majeste law. — AP

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