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On Coronation Eve, Thai King Pardons Student Charged with Royal Defamation

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Bangkok
2019-05-03
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Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattararaksa speaks to a reporter in Khon Kaen, Thailand, May 5, 2016.
Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattararaksa speaks to a reporter in Khon Kaen, Thailand, May 5, 2016.
Reuters

A student activist arrested on a royal defamation charge two days after Maha Vajiralongkorn became Thailand’s king was among several prisoners who received a pardon from the monarch on Friday, the eve of his official coronation, a government publication announced.

Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattararaksa, a student at Khon Kaen University, was arrested on Dec. 3, 2016, and charged under the Lese-Majeste law after posting on Facebook a BBC News biography of the new king that was deemed to be defamatory. The pardon was published in the official Royal Gazette on Friday, and confirmed by government officials as well as his mother.

“Pai is qualified to receive a royal pardon,” Prim Boonpattararaksa, Jatupat’s mother, told BenarNews on Friday. “Prison officials said they would prepare paper work for the consideration of the provincial governor, the prosecutor and the judges.”

“He has been in good health but sometimes he had mental strain because his parole was refused,” Prim said. “There is no justice, not from the beginning. We feel depressed.”

Jatupat was the first person to be charged under the harsh royal defamation law during the reign of Vajiralongkorn, who succeeded his late father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and will be crowned officially in a three-day ceremony starting Saturday.

Under Lese-Majeste law, one count of defaming, insulting or threatening members of the Thai royal family carries a penalty of three to 15 years in prison, but courts often reduce sentences after receiving guilty pleas.

Since the military seized power in a coup in May 2014, the junta has prosecuted about 100 people on charges of violating the royal defamation law by sharing – or even “liking” in at least one case – content on social media deemed as defamatory or insulting to the monarchy.

In mid-August 2017, a two-judge panel at Khon Khaen provincial court sentenced Jatupat to five years in prison. Later, the sentence was cut in half during a closed-door verdict session in which only his parents and lawyer were allowed access.

His lawyer, Krisdang Nuchjarus, said he anticipated Jatupat’s release in no more than two weeks.

Prim said her son was given a 34-day reduction for good behavior. Despite the efforts to free Jatupat, she said he was treated unfairly because he deserved parole before the pardon was announced.

“Pai has 47 more days to go and if his reduction counts, he will be released by May 20 anyway,” his mother said.

Hundreds posted BBC report

Jatupat was one of several hundred who shared the link to the BBC report, a profile of King Maha Vajiralongkorn that was published the same day he took the throne, Dec. 1, 2016. Police officials in Khon Khaen had said they planned to use Jatupat’s case as a template to prosecute others for violating the law on social media but those arrests did not materialize.

Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, also known as Rama X, the tenth monarch in the Chakri Dynasty, this weekend will become the first Thai king crowned in nearly seven decades. The 66-year-old inherited the throne from Bhumibol, who died in October 2016 at age 88, after ruling Thailand for 70 years.

On major events involving members of the royal family, the king often shows mercy by issuing royal pardons to qualified prisoners such as those who have less than three years remaining on their sentences, are first time prisoners or are 60 or older, according to the department of corrections.

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