BANGKOK – A judge at Ratchada Criminal Court in Bangkok has jailed two young Thammasat University drama student for lese-majeste, (Article 112 Insulting the monarchy), in the latest legal crackdown on opponents of the country’s military rulers and their establishment allies.
Human Rights Watch has branded the case “another dark mark” on the record of the junta, which has used the law increasingly aggressively to stifle public debate.
Thammasat Students Porntip Mankong, 26, and Patiwat Saraiyaem, 23, were both handed jail terms of two-and-a-half years after pleading guilty at an earlier hearing, a strategy commonly used by those accused under lese-majeste laws who see no hope of acquittal and so do what they can to avoid the maximum 15-year sentence.
Supporters gathered at the court in Bangkok sang defiantly in support of the pair as they were taken away in a prison car. They will resume the detention that began after their arrests in August.
“I’ve learnt many things — dancing, playing music — and I’ve made many friends,” Ms Porntip, who graduated last year, told reporters before the verdict.
The two were part of a team that put on a play called The Wolf Bride in 2013 at Bangkok’s Thammasat University to mark the 40th anniversary of a deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protesters there and elsewhere in the capital.
The production featured a fictional monarch but few other details of the case have been publicised, on the grounds that it would constitute an insult to the family of the ailing King Bhumibol Adulyadej, monarch for more than 68 years, to describe the alleged lese-majeste content.
Even some moderate royalists admit that the once little-used lese-majeste law is running out of control, with the provision now wielded by politicians, royalist vigilante groups and others.
Anybody can make a claim against anyone else at any time, while the police are seen as reluctant to drop cases for fear they may in turn be accused of lese-majeste.
About 40 student gathered outside the court wearing white shirts with the words “We are friends” in Thai and English. Some raised a three-finger salute that has come to represent opposition to the junta.
Pornthip’s mother, Nuan Mangkong, told reporters the pair would not appeal: “We want this matter over.”