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Thailand: First Lese-Majeste Case Filed Under New King

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Bangkok
2016-12-05
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A woman holds an image of King Maha Vajiralongkorn outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Dec. 2, 2016.
A woman holds an image of King Maha Vajiralongkorn outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Dec. 2, 2016.
AFP

The father of a Thai activist said his son showed no fear as he became the first person arrested and charged under Thailand’s strict royal defamation laws since King Maha Vajiralongkorn ascended to the throne.

Two days after the new king’s ascension, Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattararaksa, a student activist from Khon Kaen University in the northeast, was taken into custody on Saturday under the so-called Lese-Majeste law for allegedly sharing a BBC Thai profile of the new monarch on Facebook.

Jatupat was among hundreds of people who shared the king’s profile by the BBC on social media pages, Agence France-Presse quoted an anti-junta activist group, the New Democracy Movement, as saying. A screen grab of the new king’s profile on a Facebook page showed it had more than 2,500 shares.

Jatupat, who was released Sunday after posting 400,000 baht (U.S. $11,210) for bail, faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of the charge, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported. He is due to appear at Khon Kaen court on Jan. 23.

According to Jatupat’s father, Viboon Boonpattararaksa, a large number of police arrived in at least four pickup trucks when they came to arrest the student in Chaiyapoom province on Saturday.

“My son has not been issued a summons, but the court issued an arrest warrant and police came to arrest him,” Viboon told BenarNews in a phone interview Monday. “He was not allowed to contact his relatives or his lawyer even though his lawyer was waiting at the Khon Kaen police station.”

Police tried to provide a lawyer for Jatupat, but he refused, according to his father.

“Pai was not scared. They argued over his ‘rights’ until the police allowed him to contact his own lawyer,” Viboon said, who himself is an attorney.

Khon Kaen police said they could not comment on the case.

‘Impartial, independent’

Meanwhile, BBC News stood by its Thai language service’s article on King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

“BBC Thai was established to bring impartial, independent, and accurate news to a country where the media faces restrictions, and we are confident that this article adheres to the BBC’s editorial principles. While we do not comment on individual cases, we do everything we can to ensure the safety of all our staff around the world,” Charlotte Morgan, a spokeswoman for BBC News in London, told BenarNews via email.

Last week the then-crown prince accepted an invitation from parliament to succeed his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in October after 70 years on the throne.

On Monday, people across Thailand marked the birthday of the late king, who would have turned 89 on Dec. 5. Thais have been in mourning since his death, and, in the troubled Deep South, Buddhists gave alms and food to monks as they honored Bhumibol’s memory on his birthday.

Lese-Majeste charges increase

Since taking power in 2014, a junta led by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha has sharply increased filing charges over perceived slights against the monarchy. In July, Thai police questioned the wife of a British journalist who posted to social media photos of the then-crown prince even though the photos were taken at a German airport and the journalist did not live in Thailand.

Record-breaking 25- and 30-year sentences have been handed down for people over Facebook posts, while a man found himself arrested for making sarcastic comments about Bhumibol’s late dog. Many convictions are not made public because Thai journalists censor themselves when reporting cases to avoid falling foul of the law.

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