BANGKOK – A human rights lawyer is facing up to 150 years in prison for violating Thailand’s strict royal defamation law by sharing Facebook posts written by an exiled dissident academic.
Prawet Prapanukul was arrested last month and charged by a Bangkok court with 10 counts of insulting a monarch or other ruler for sharing Facebook posts written by Paris-based Thai historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul about the disappearance of a pro-democracy plaque, Al Jazeera reported.
The small bronze monument, which lay in Bangkok’s heavily policed Royal Plaza, marked the 1932 revolution that ended absolute monarchy in Thailand, but was replaced by a new plaque bearing a royalist message in April, it said.
It is not known what the Facebook posts said, but last month authorities banned Thai people from all online interaction with Dr Jeamteerasakul, saying that they should not share, like or follow him on any social media platform.
Dr Jeamteerasakul, whose PhD thesis was published by Monash University, was fired from Thammasat University in February 2015, allegedly for his political stance, and moved to France, where he was given refugee status after the Thai junta requested his extradition.
Five other people, who have not been named, have also been charged under the lese-majesty charges, each of which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison – although overall sentences cannot exceed 50 years, experts say.
According to Anon Nampa, of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, Mr Prapanukul is innocent of any crime as he has only criticised royal defamation laws.
Thailand’s lese-majeste laws are among the strictest in the world. The laws protect the most senior members of Thailand’s royal family from insult or threat.
Article 112 of Thailand’s criminal code says anyone who “defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir-apparent or the regent” will be punished with up to 15 years in prison.
This has remained virtually unchanged since the creation of the country’s first criminal code in 1908, although the penalty was toughened in 1976.
By Jack Grove