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Thai ‘Yellow Shirt’ Founder Cleared of Lese Majeste Charges

ondhi Limthongkul had “no intention” of breaching strict lese majeste laws in his 2008 comments, one of the judges said (AFP, Christophe Archambault)

 

Chiangrai Times – A Bangkok court on Wednesday acquitted the founder of Thailand’s monarchist “Yellow Shirt” protest movement of royal insult charges for repeating excerpts from a speech by a political rival.

Sondhi Limthongkul, one of Thailand’s most controversial political figures, had “no intention” of breaching strict lese majeste laws in his 2008 comments, according to one of the judges in the capital’s Criminal Court.

“The court has found that the defendant quoted parts of another person’s speech with the intention to call for police to take legal action against that person,” she said at the hearing, attended by around 50 supporters of the nationalist Yellows.

Protests by the Yellow Shirts helped trigger a coup by royalist generals in 2006 that ousted ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra

“The defendant’s action was not intended to insult the monarchy.”

Media mogul Sondhi said the charges against him originated from unspecified political rivals.

“There is an effort to put me in jail,” he told reporters, alleging that some elements in the court system had worked in collusion with politicians.

Protests by the Yellow Shirts helped to trigger a coup by royalist generals in 2006 that ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, Sondhi’s longtime rival.

Thaksin now lives in self-imposed exile overseas to avoid a jail term imposed in his absence for corruption, but his younger sister Yingluck Shinawatra is the current prime minister.

In 2010 Sondhi was convicted of defaming Thaksin and handed a six-month suspended jail sentence.

In February this year, the Criminal Court sentenced him to 20 years in prison for corporate fraud in a case dating back to the mid-1990s. He was released on bail pending an appeal hearing on those charges.

The royal family is a highly sensitive topic in politically turbulent Thailand. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who is revered as a demi-god by many Thais, has been hospitalised since September 2009.

The woman whom Sondhi quoted, Daranee Charnchoengsilapakul — a hardcore supporter of the rival “Red Shirts” — was jailed for 15 years in December for her comments, which she made during political rallies four years ago.

Thailand has seen a series of rival street protests in recent years by the Yellows and the mainly poor and working-class Red Shirts, whose demonstrations in Bangkok in 2010 sparked a military crackdown that left about 90 people dead.

The Yellows claim allegiance to the throne and are backed by the Bangkok-based elite, although their influence has waned since 2008 when they seized Bangkok’s airports and stranded hundreds of thousands of tourists.

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