Thai pro-democracy leader jailed for 4 years under royal insult law

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Thai pro-democracy leader jailed for 4 years under royal insult law Arnon Nampa gives the three fingered-salute inspired by “The Hunger Games” movie that has been adopted by democracy movements in Asia outside Bangkok Criminal Court on Sept. 26, 2023.
Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews

A Thai court on Tuesday sentenced a prominent human rights lawyer and leader of the nation’s youth-led pro-democracy movement to four years in prison for insulting the monarchy. 

The verdict was the first of 14 cases brought against Arnon Nampa under Thailand’s lèse-majesté law, which shields the royal family from any insult and carries a jail term of up to 15 years for each conviction.

Arnon, who has openly called for reform of Thailand’s powerful monarchy, was sentenced over a speech he made during protests against the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha in 2020. 

The Bangkok Criminal Court ruled that Arnon’s speech at the capital’s Democracy Monument on Oct. 14, 2020 had “defamed and aroused hatred” against King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

“The defendant’s speech was distorted and harmful to King Rama X,” the court said in a statement.

His lawyer Krisadang Nutcharas told BenarNews they would appeal.

Before the ruling, Arnon said he would go on fighting even if he was jailed.

“I think the young generation has created a phenomenon that has irreversibly changed the country in terms of thinking,” he told reporters as he entered the court.

“The whole country believes in rights and freedom, and is ready to become a civilized nation.”

Activists and a legal expert condemned the decision as an assault on basic democratic rights.

“Demonstrating is part of becoming a developed and free country,” said Piyanut Kotsan, the director of Amnesty International Thailand. 

Olarn Thinbangtieo, an associate professor at Burapha University’s Faculty of Political Science and Law, said the verdict sent a message that any actions taken against the Thai elite would be punished, regardless of human rights.

Starting in mid-2020, Arnon and other young Thais – mostly university students – took to the streets to call for the ouster of Prayuth’s government, which was filled with key figures from a 2014 military coup, as well as reforms to laws protecting the monarchy.

As protests escalated, riot police used tear gas and rubber bullets against the demonstrators and stand-offs frequently turned violent. In November 2020, Prayuth vowed to exercise all “pertaining laws” against youth-led anti-government demonstrations, including the lèse-majesté. 

As of August, at least 257 protesters had been prosecuted under lèse-majesté, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, an advocacy group that employs Arnon.

Activists, human rights groups and at least one member of parliament turned out to the hearing on Tuesday.

Ladda Jamjai, 55, who was at the court to support Arnon, said the ruling curbed freedom of expression.

“I don't think Arnon deserved the four-year imprisonment,” she told BenarNews.

Kunnawut Boonreak contributed to this report.


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