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Chiang Rai Man Sentenced to 28 Years in Prison for Facebook Posts

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Chiang Rai Man Gets 28 Years in Prison for Facebook Posts

A court in Thailand has sentenced a 27-year-old Chiang Rai man to 28 years in prison for posting messages on Facebook that defamed the monarchy, while two young women charged with the same offense went on hunger strike after being hospitalized.

Mongkhon Thirakot violated the Lese Majeste law in 14 of the 27 posts for which he was arrested last August, according to a court in the northern province of Chiang Rai. The current king, his queen and heirs, and any regent are all covered by the law.

The lese majeste law carries a prison sentence of three to 15 years for insulting the monarchy, but critics say it is frequently used to quell political dissent. Beginning in 2020, student-led pro-democracy protests openly criticized the monarchy, a previously taboo subject, resulting in vigorous prosecutions under the law, which had previously been relatively rarely used.

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According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, a legal aid organization, at least 228 people, including 18 minors, have been charged with violating the law since November 2020, even as the protest movement has dwindled due to arrests and the difficulties of protesting during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Chiang Rai court determined that the 13 messages posted by Mongkhon, an online influencer, did not violate the law because they were about the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the father of current King Maha Vajiralongkorn, or did not mention a specific royal figure.

Mr. Mongkhon was found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison for the remaining 14 posts. Because of Mongkhon’s cooperation with the court, the 42-year total prison term was reduced by one-third to 28 years.

He was granted bail while his case is being appealed, on the condition that he not engage in acts that are detrimental to the monarchy or leave the country.

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Prosecutions for lese majeste have recently received increased public attention as a result of a hunger strike by two female activists charged with the offence.

Tantawan “Tawan” Tuatulanon and Orawan “Bam” Phupong had been released on bail but announced earlier this month that they were rescinding their release in order to return to prison in solidarity with others facing the same charge. They issued demands such as justice system reform, the release of political prisoners, and the restoration of civil liberties through the repeal of legislation such as the lese majeste law.

After three days in prison, they went on a hunger strike, refusing to consume any food or liquids, a potentially lethal tactic. They were transferred from the prison hospital to a state hospital with better facilities on Tuesday.

Supporters staged small protests as the strike continued.

The opposition Move Forward Party has proposed amending the lese majeste law, but no action has been taken in Parliament.

The proposal would reduce the penalty for defaming the king to a maximum of one year in prison and a fine of up to 300,000 baht ($9,160), while an offence against the queen, the king’s heirs, or the regent would be punishable by a maximum of six months in prison and a fine of up to 200,000 baht ($6,100).

“The entire Thai justice system has a problem, as does the enforcement of the lese majeste law, which is also used as a political tool. Thailand must address this issue and improve its skewed justice system,” said Pita Limjaroenrat, the party’s leader.

 

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