Thai courts hand jail terms to lawmaker, musician for royal insults

By Reuters   May 27, 2024 | 01:48 am PT
Thai courts hand jail terms to lawmaker, musician for royal insults
Chonthicha "Lookkate" Jangrew, an activist-turned-election candidate for the Move Forward Party, speaks during the general election campaign, in Pathum Thani, Thailand, March 17, 2023. Photo by Reuters
Courts in Thailand handed jail terms on Monday to an activist musician and an opposition lawmaker for insulting the monarchy, their lawyers said, the latest individuals to fall foul of one of the world's strictest lese-majeste laws.

The law shielding Thailand's powerful monarchy from criticism carries a penalty of up to 15 years in jail for each offence, and is one of the toughest of its kind in the world.

Chonthicha Jangrew, 31, a parliamentarian with the Move Forward Party, received a two-year term for a speech made in 2021 at an anti-government protest. But she was given bail pending an appeal, her lawyer Marisa Pidsaya told Reuters.

Another court sentenced musician Chaiamorn Kaewwiboonpan, 35, to four years in prison for burning a portrait of King Maha Vajiralongkorn. He had been found guilty of arson, lese-majeste and computer crimes.

A legal aid group, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, said Chaiamorn was seeking bail and intended to appeal the decision.

Both have denied insulting the monarchy and the courts have yet to issue statements on the sentences.

The palace typically does not comment on the law.

More than 272 people have been charged under the law since 2020, 17 of them held in pre-trial detention, says legal aid group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, which compiles data and has defended many of those prosecuted.

In 2021, a 65-year-old woman was sentenced to 43 years for circulating posts on social media critical of the monarchy, while a man jailed in 2023 for 28 years received an additional 22 years in January after appealing a verdict on his social media posts about the crown.

He is now appealing the decision in the Supreme Court.

Legal battles

Chonthicha won a house seat last year with the popular opposition Move Forward, which has the most seats in parliament but faces legal battles of its own, having campaigned to amend the royal insults law, which a court has ordered it to drop from its manifesto.

One of its lawmakers, Rukchanok Srinork, was sentenced last year to six years in prison over social media posts critical of the monarchy.

Move Forward faces dissolution after a court ruled the amendment plan was unconstitutional, and a hidden effort to undermine Thailand's system of governance, in which the king is the head of state.

Move Forward denies that, saying it wanted to prevent the law from being used as a political weapon.

A separate complaint filed with another body seeks life bans for 44 current and former lawmakers over the amendment bid.

After his 2021 arrest, musician Chaiamorn admitted setting alight the king's portrait as a gesture of defiance and also to vent frustration over the detention of fellow activists on royal insult charges.

The two rulings come two weeks after activist Netiporn "Bung" Sanesangkhom died in pre-trial detention on charges that include royal insult.

She was on a partial hunger strike, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights says.

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