A Thai court Wednesday sentenced a man to 20 years in prison for posting content online deemed as insulting the monarchy, his lawyer said, in the latest case of a person convicted of breaching Thailand’s strict royal defamation law.
The defendant, a 59-year-old herb salesman identified by his lawyer only as Tara, was found guilty by a military court for re-posting on his website audio files of recorded comments by critic of the monarchy, the attorney said. The website promotes herbal medicines.
Tara’s conviction under the so-called Lese-Majeste law came the same day that rights and free-press advocacy groups criticized the filing of sedition charges against a Thai journalist and two prominent political critics for Facebook posts that allegedly criticized the military government.
“Tara was convicted of six counts of Lese-Majeste. He was sentenced to five years for each count. Since he pleaded guilty, the jail term was reduced to 20 years,” lawyer Sasinan Thamnitinan told BenarNews.
“He was a medical herb seller and never got involved in politics,” she said.
Since the junta came to power after a military coup three years ago, at least 82 people have been charged under Lese-Majeste and at least 64 others have been charged for seditious speech, according to iLaw, a local legal advocacy group.
One count of Lese-Majeste carries a sentence of up to 15 years, while a person convicted of one count of sedition can go to prison for seven years. But it is common for Thai courts to reduce sentences if the defendant pleads guilty to the charges.
In June, a Bangkok military court handed the longest recorded Lese-Majeste prison sentence, ordering a Thai man to serve 35 years for Facebook postings that officials had considered as offensive to the monarchy. The original sentence was 70 years.
Calls for charges to be dropped
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned charges of sedition brought against Pravit Rojanaphruk, a journalist at the online news website Khaosod English, Pichai Naripthaphan, a former energy minister, and Watana Muangsook, a former social development and human security minister.
“The Thai junta’s dictatorial reach has expanded well beyond traditional sources to social media like Facebook,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director. “These dubious charges for peaceful Facebook commentary should be dropped immediately.”
On Tuesday, police charged Pravit with sedition and violating the country’s Computer Crimes Act after he posted comments on his Facebook page criticizing military rule and the junta’s slow response to recent flooding in northeastern provinces, HRW said.
Last week, police also charged former government ministers Pichai and Watana, accusing them of committing sedition and computer crimes for their Facebook commentary about Thailand’s political and economic problems under Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha.
“I am keeping my fingers crossed, given the complex legal situation,” Pravit said on his Facebook page after he was fingerprinted at the police headquarters on Tuesday.
In 2015, Pravit was summoned by Thai authorities for an “attitude adjustment” detention session for speaking out against the May 2014 military coup in Facebook posts.
Members of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance also protested the new charges brought against their colleague, Pravit.
“Pravit’s posts are well within his right to express his opinion as a journalist and as a Thai citizen to criticize the government,” the alliance said Wednesday in a statement urging the authorities to drop the charges that “encourage further self-censorship among the Thai journalist community.”