Thai court jails activist for record 50 years under royal insult law

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Thai court jails activist for record 50 years under royal insult law Mongkol Tirakot is escorted by a policeman following his arrest during a hunger strike demanding the release of the People’s Group leaders, in front of the Ratchadaphisek Criminal Court in Bangkok, April 14, 2021.
[Thai Lawyers for Human Rights]

Thailand’s Court of Appeal sentenced an activist from Chiang Rai on Thursday to an unprecedented 50 years in prison for violating the nation’s strict law against insulting the monarchy. 

The court added 22 years to the original 28-year sentence given by a lower court to defendant Mongkol Tirakot, an activist who works as a clothing merchant, for personal Facebook posts by him that were ruled as defaming royals because they criticized the monarchy and its role in Thai society.

Thailand’s royal defamation law, better known as lèse-majesté, shields the country’s all-powerful monarchy from criticism and is framed under Article 112 of the criminal code.

According to attorneys representing Mongkol from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), the 50-year sentence is “the longest ever imposed for a lèse-majesté conviction.”

“The defendant himself admitted to posting vulgar content on Facebook, including images that damage the royal portrait, caricatures of the royal face, or images showing disrespect,” a part of the judgment read.

“It is generally understood that the defendant intended to defame, show contempt, and express hatred towards the monarchy, thereby tarnishing its reputation and honor,” it said.

TLHR’s appeal for bail following the ruling was denied, with the court saying it believed that the 30-year-old Mongkol may flee given the heavy sentence.

His lawyers plan to appeal the ruling before the Supreme Court. In the meantime, Mongkol, known as “Bas,” will continue to be detained at Chiang Rai Central Prison.

Mongkol’s activism was part of a broader movement that began in July 2020, which called for the resignation of the former junta chief and then-Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, the amendment of the constitution, and reform of the monarchy. The movement led to hundreds of protests in Bangkok and other provinces over the past three years.

One of the events that Mongkol participated in was an April 2021 hunger strike to demand the release of political prisoners and detainees in lèse-majesté cases.

During the strike, he was arrested and charged with lèse-majesté and computer crimes for 27 messages he posted on his personal Facebook page. Back then he was granted bail pending trial.

In January 2023, the Chiang Rai Provincial Court found Mongkol guilty of violating Article 112 in 14 of the 27 messages, acquitting him in the remaining 13.

Each message came with two years in prison (reduced from three), and Mongkol was sentenced to a total of 28 years behind bars.

But the prosecution appealed the acquittals on the 13 messages at the Court of Appeal for the Northern Region.

On Thursday, the appeals court found that Mongkol had violated the royal insult law in 11 of those 13 messages as well. This court also allotted two years (reduced from three) per message, which means Mongkol was sentenced for another 22 years.  

“Combined with the previous 28-year sentence from 14 counts, the total imprisonment is 50 years,” the judgment said.

The sentence was “excessive,” said Thannapat Charoenpanitch, a political scientist at Pibulsongkram Rajabhat University.

“The court should have considered the impact of the violation to see if it truly caused damage ... Otherwise, the punishment will be as excessive,” the associate professor told BenarNews.

“These laws need to be reviewed and amended through the proper process. Even though we had hopes with this new civilian government, at this point, we have yet to see any indication that they will revisit or even debate the issues surrounding Article 112,” he added.

According to the TLHR, since the protests began in July 2020 until the end of 2023, at least 1,938 people have been prosecuted in connection with the demonstrations across 1,264 cases. 

Of these, at least 262 individuals in 287 cases were charged for allegedly insulting the monarchy. And at least 37 individuals are currently detained on various other political charges.

Jon Preechawong in Bangkok contributed to this report.


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