A Bangkok military court Friday handed the longest prison sentence to a person convicted of violating the nation’s strict royal defamation law, ordering a Thai man to serve 35 years for posting content on Facebook deemed as insulting to the monarchy, a lawyer said.
The man, identified only as Wichai, 34, was sentenced to 70 years’ imprisonment on 10 counts of violating Lese-Majeste – the name for the law that guards against defaming, insulting or issuing threats against royals – but the court decided to halve it after he pleaded guilty, said Sarawut Wongsaranon, a lawyer with Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.
Still, the 35-year sentence stands as the longest one handed down under the law, Saruwat said.
“This is the harshest sentence for Lese-Majeste,” he told BenarNews.
Wichai, who used a Facebook account that purported to belong to another user, chose to confess after a witness for his defense failed to testify twice, Sarawut said. He declined to give Wichai’s full name to protect his privacy because of the sensitive nature of the case.
The trial was held behind closed doors and Wichai was denied bail, Sarawut said.
Wichai, a native of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, was arrested in December 2015, after another man filed a complaint that he used a Facebook account under the man’s name and posted insulting messages against the royal family, according to local news reports.
“Wichai made 10 offenses posting messages on a Facebook account that he faked in another person’s name, resulting in 70-year imprisonment. He broke Section 112, the Lese-Majeste law. But, as he confessed, the sentence was reduced to 35 years,” Sarawut said in a phone interview with BenarNews.
“Now Wichai gave up appealing and will be jailed and he will see if the jail term is further reduced occasionally,” the lawyer said.
At least 82 people have been arrested and charged on suspicion of violating Lese-Majeste since the military seized power in a coup in May 2014, lawyers said. Under the law, those convicted of posting online content deemed as offending the monarchy or committing other perceived slights against Thai royals can face 15 years in prison.
Wichai’s prison term is longer than the 30-year sentence handed down in August 2015 to another man who was found guilty of six counts for Facebook posting under the name Sam Parr, according to local news reports. He received a 60-year prison term that was reduced to 30 years.
Reacting to the sentencing on Friday, Brad Adams, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said the criminal sanctions imposed for violating the country’s Lese-Majeste law “are neither necessary nor proportionate to protect the monarchy or national security.”
“Today’s verdict of the Bangkok military court, which sentences a man to 70 years in jail, is shocking and will further stifle the already constricted freedom of expression,” Adams told BenarNews.
In a separate case also on Friday, Thailand’s Supreme Court halved the five-year prison term handed out by a lower court to Chaliew Chan-ied, a tailor, for violating Lese-Majeste, according to local news reports.
Chaliew was found guilty of uploading online an audio file that was deemed insulting to the royal family.