Thai courts hand down record jail terms for royal insults

Two people jailed for up to 30 years for insulting the monarchy, heaviest sentences in country's history

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Thai military courts sentenced two people to record jail terms of 30 and 28 years on Friday on charges of insulting the country's highly revered monarchy over Facebook.

The Military Court of Bangkok had originally handed one defendant - identified only by his first name Pongsak - a 60-year term but commuted it since he confessed to lese-majeste, a lawyer told Anadolu Agency.

Poonsuk Poonsukcharoen, a lawyer for the advocacy group, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, said the defendant admitted to creating a Facebook alias to distribute six posts that were deemed insulting to the monarchy and to being part of an anti-establishment group.

The court handed out 10-year terms for each of the posts -- totaling a 60-year sentence that activist groups say is the harshest punishment handed in similar cases.

Meanwhile, a military court in the city of Chiang Mai, 700 kilometers north of Bangkok, sentenced another defendant to 56 years in prison.

The sentence was commuted to 28 years as the suspect also confessed to writing the posts deemed insulting to the monarchy. 

Since the crimes happened while the kingdom remains under martial law, the convicted have no right to appeal.

Thailand has some of the harshest lese-majeste laws in the world, designed to protect the country's highly revered monarch and his family, which the ruling junta views as above politics. The crime is liable to a jail term from 3 to 15 years.

Since the ruling Thai junta overthrew the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra last year, the number of cases of people detained for lese-majeste -- either awaiting trial or already sentenced -- has soared.

According to legal watchdog iLAW, there are now 56 ongoing prosecutions for lese-majeste cases, a significant increase from the two cases being prosecuted before the military took power in May 2014. 

Judges have also considerably extended the scope of the law, by including other members of the royal family -- beyond the king, the queen, the heir or the regent specified in article 112 -- and even monarchs who reigned centuries ago.