Thai­land slammed for 25-year lese ma­jeste jail term


Rights groups Wed­nes­day lam­basted a Thai mil­i­tary court which jailed a busi­ness­man for 25 years for mak­ing al­legedly defam­a­tory Face­book posts about the monar­chy, one of the tough­est known sen­tences for lese ma­jeste.

The sen­tenc­ing of Thein­sutham Suthi­jit­taser­a­nee, 58, comes as con­cerns mount over a bid by the na­tion’s junta leader to re­place mar­tial law — that has blan­keted the king­dom for months — with new se­cu­rity mea­sures re­tain­ing sweep­ing pow­ers for the mil­i­tary.

Thein­sutham was sen­tenced Tues­day to 10 years for each of five counts of post­ing mes­sages on the so­cial net­work­ing web­site deemed to be defam­a­tory to the Thai royal fam­ily, his lawyer Sasi­nan Tham­nithi­nan told AFP.

The sen­tence was halved be­cause the de­fen­dant pleaded guilty, but is still among the tough­est sen­tences yet for in­sult­ing the monar­chy.

“The 25-year sen­tence is one of the harsh­est we are aware of. It is par­tic­u­larly prob­lem­atic given that it was is­sued by a mil­i­tary tri­bunal,” Sam Zar­ifi, re­gional direc­tor for legal rights group the In­ter­na­tional Com­mis­sion of Ju­rists (ICJ), told AFP.

“Given the de­fen­dant’s age, it comes close to be­ing a life sen­tence.”

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional con­demned the con­vic­tion as “pre­pos­ter­ous” and called for an end to lese ma­jeste pros­e­cu­tions, which have surged since roy­al­ist gen­er­als top­pled the rem­nants of the elected gov­ern­ment of Yingluck Shi­nawa­tra last May.

Do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional me­dia rou­tinely self-cen­sor re­port­ing of the monar­chy, in­clud­ing royal defama­tion tri­als, lest they too are hit by the dra­co­nian law, which car­ries up to 15 years in jail for ev­ery count of in­sult­ing, de­fam­ing or threat­en­ing the monar­chy.

Crit­ics of the law say it is used as a weapon against the po­lit­i­cal enemies of the roy­al­ist elite.

An ICJ tally says at least 49 peo­ple have fallen foul of the royal defama­tion law since the coup, in­clud­ing those in­ves­ti­gated, de­tained, con­victed or await­ing ver­dicts.

Twenty- two of those cases have been tried in mil­i­tary courts whose ver­dicts can not be ap­pealed.

‘De­scent into dic­ta­tor­ship’

Free­dom of ex­pres­sion and dis­sent have been smoth­ered by mar­tial law im­posed by the junta since last year’s coup.

On Tues­day Prime Min­is­ter Prayuth Chan-ocha said he had asked the revered but el­derly king, Bhu­mi­bol Adulyadej, for per­mis­sion to lift mar­tial law.

But rights groups have ex­pressed alarm at Prayuth’s move to re­place it with sweep­ing se­cu­rity pow­ers un­der Sec­tion 44 of an in­terim con­sti­tu­tion.

Un­der the sec­tion, Prayuth can uni­lat­er­ally is­sue or­ders to sup­press “any act that un­der­mines public peace and or­der or na­tional se­cu­rity, the monar­chy, na­tional eco­nomics or the ad­min­is­tra­tion of state af­fairs.

Brad Adams, Asia direc­tor of Hu­man Rights Watch, said the sec­tion ef­fec­tively grants the junta leader un­fet­tered power and “will mark Thai­land’s deep­en­ing scent into dic­ta­tor­ship.

Ad­dress­ing hun­dreds of civil ser­vants in Bangkok on Wed­nes­day as part of Thai­land’s na­tional Civil Ser­vice Day, Prayuth re­jected be­ing la­beled a dic­ta­tor and de­fended Sec­tion 44.

“It was writ­ten to give pow­ers to the prime min­is­ter with­out is­su­ing laws. It does not mean we will take power away from peo­ple. If I use this power in the wrong way, don’t you think I will be ashamed?” he said at Gov­ern­ment House.


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