A court in Thailand’s Yala province sentenced a blind woman Thursday to 18 months in prison for violating the country’s strict royal defamation law, in the first Lese-Majeste case in the country’s Deep South region, according to her lawyer.
Defendant Nurhayati Masoh, 23, was convicted under the Lese-Majeste law for commenting on an October 2016 Facebook post by Giles Ungpakorn, a Thai-British academic who fled Thailand after being charged with breaking the same law in 2009, defense attorney Kaosar Aleemama told BenarNews.
She said her client had used a computer voice application to post the comment, which was deemed as insulting to the monarchy following the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Police charged Nurhayati on Oct. 18, 2016, five days after King Bhumibol’s death and after being contacted by another visually impaired person.
“The community leader informed her about the charge and she had to report to the police station with her relative,” Kaosar said. “She confessed there when asked about the case because she did not realize this would be a serious charge.”
Nurhayati, who pleaded guilty in Yala Provincial Court prior to sentencing, has been detained at the Yala central prison since November 2017. Her lawyers had discussed a potential appeal and possible request for bail – if reasonable – with her relatives, said Kaosar, who is with the Yala Muslim Attorney Center Foundation.
The Thai Deep South is a predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking region.
“Even the prison staff and her friends would like to bail her out as it is hard to take care of her – someone needs to be with her every time she has to use a bathroom. But the bail fee is high. Her relatives cannot guarantee they can raise 350,000 baht (U.S. $10,860),” the lawyer said.
“The court sentenced her today to three years but reduced it by half because she pleaded guilty,” Kaosar said, adding that the court case was filed Nov. 28, 2017, and Nurhayati had been detained since then.
The criminal code for Lese-Majeste states that anyone who “defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir-apparent or the regent” will be punished with a jail term between three and 15 years.
Since the Thai junta seized power in a coup in May 2014, as many as 1,319 people were called in to report to or were visited by the military, according to iLaw, a local human rights NGO. Of those, 597 were arrested, at least 82 were charged with violating Lese-Majeste and at least 64 were charged with sedition.
In June 2017, a military court handed down the longest prison sentence for violating Lese-Majeste. A man identified only as Wichai, 34, was ordered to serve 35 years for posting content on a Facebook account that purported to belong to another user and that was deemed as offensive to the monarchy.