A Thai court sentenced a former civil servant on to a record prison term of 43 years and six months for violating the country’s strict law on insulting the monarchy. The former civil servant was sentenced to prison for posting audio clips on Facebook and YouTube with comments deemed critical of the monarchy.
The Bangkok Criminal Court found the woman guilty on 29 counts of violating the country’s lese-majeste law for posting audio clips to Facebook and YouTube with comments deemed critical of the monarchy, the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights group said.
Violating the lese-majeste law of Thailand, commonly known as Article 112, is punishable by imprisonment of 3 to 15 years per count. The law is controversial not only because it has been used to prosecute something as innocent as a Facebook post, but also because anyone can lodge a lawsuit that can bind the individual accused for years of legal action.
“Today’s court verdict is shocking and sends a spine-chilling signal that not only criticisms of the monarchy won’t be tolerated, but they will also be severely punished,” said Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch.
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights identified the woman sentenced only by her first name Anchan and said she was in her mid-sixties. The court initially announced her sentence as 87 years but reduced it by half because she pleaded guilty to the offences.
She denied the charges when her case was first heard in the military court, where lese majeste offences were prosecuted for a period after the coup. When her case was transferred to criminal court, she pleaded guilty with the hope that the court would have sympathy for her.
“I thought it was nothing. There were so many people who shared this content and listened to it. The guy (who made the content) had done it for so many years,” Anchan said. “So I didn’t really think this through and was too confident and not being careful enough to realise at the time that it wasn’t appropriate.” She said she had worked as a civil servant for 40 years and was arrested one year before retirement, and with a conviction would lose her pension.
After King Maha Vajralongkorn took the throne in 2016 following his father’s death, he informed the government that he did not wish to see the lese-majeste law used. But as the protests grew last year, and the criticism of the monarchy got harsher, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha warned a line had been crossed and the law would be used.