Woman sentenced to record 87 years for lese majeste; rights groups cry foul

The Bangkok Criminal Court sentenced a woman to 87 years in jail Tuesday for violating the country’s lese majeste law, which protects the monarch from any insult. It was the longest sentencing for the crime under the current administration.

Anchan, whose last name was redacted, was convicted of sharing online a secret recording of an unknown businessman, known only by his online handle Banphot, talking about the monarch and Thai history.

As the plaintiff pleaded guilty her sentence was halved to 43 years and six months.

She was in pretrial detention for three years and nine months.

A man accused of being Banphot is currently remanded in a Bangkok jail but authorities have declined to release details of the case to the public, citing sensitivity.

Strong reaction from human rights groups

According to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, this is the longest sentence ever handed down for a lese majeste case.

Sunai Phasuk, Human Rights Watch’s senior researcher in Thailand, said that the verdict sent a spine-chilling signal to would-be critics of the monarch.

For the past three years, the courts have refrained from using the lese majeste laws and have used other means to protect the monarchy including the use of the computer crimes act, Sunai said.

“The resumption of the use of lese-majeste law is bringing back the climate of fear that used to loom over Thailand under the military junta,” he told Thai Enquirer. “We expected that Anchan will be found guilty by the court but the severity of the verdict is shocking as this is a record-breaking jail term for lese majeste.”

With this sentence, the message is clear, according to Sunai. “Do not commit lese-majeste or the consequences will be severe,” he said.  

A warning to protesters

Since July of last year, pro-democracy protesters have taken place throughout the country with tens of thousands of demonstrators taking to the street to demand the government of Prayut Chan-ocha step down.

The protests have occasionally touched upon the need to reform the country’s royal institutions including rolling back some of the royal privileges enjoyed by the institution.

The protesters have at time used inflammatory language on stage and on marches which has irked and provoked Thailand’s conservative forces, who accuse the protesters of trying to overthrow the monarchy.

“Tuesday’s verdict sends a clear message from the country’s conservative institutions that the monarchy will be protected at all costs,” said political analyst Arun Saronchai.

“It is a message to the protesters that if they keep going down that road, they too will face lengthy jail sentences.”

Over 40 protesters have already been charged by the police with violating the country’s lese majeste laws. They currently await trial.

Prime Minister Prayut said in November 2020 that he was forced to start using the lese majeste laws again because of the unacceptable rhetoric of the protesters. He previously said that King Vajiralongkorn had prohibited the government from using the law to prosecute dissidents.

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