Wed, May 09, 2012 - Page 5 News List

Thai ‘lese-majeste’ convict dies after few months in jail

Reuters, BANGKOK

A Thai man who was jailed for 20 years after being found guilty of sending text messages disrespectful to Queen Sirikit has died in jail a few months into his sentence, his lawyer said yesterday.

The case in November last year of Amphon Tangnoppaku, 61, who the media nicknamed “Uncle SMS,” had stoked a debate about the harsh sentences imposed in Thailand for lese-majeste, or insulting the king, queen or crown prince.

“Uncle was admitted to the prison’s infirmary unit after experiencing severe stomach pains since Friday,” said Anon Numpa, Amphon’s lawyer. “We haven’t found out the cause of death yet, but he had been battling cancer.”

During his trial, Amphon had denied sending the SMS messages to a government official, saying he did not even know how to send such messages from his mobile telephone.

Successive governments have ignored international calls to reform the lese-majeste laws, a highly sensitive issue in a country where 84-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej is regarded as semi-divine.

The laws are increasingly questioned in Thailand itself, with some critics arguing the legislation is abused to discredit activists and politicians opposed to the royalist establishment.

Anon also said a request for a royal pardon for another client, Lerpong Wichaikhammat, also known as Joe Gordon, had been approved by the Ministry of Justice and was being forwarded to the Bureau of the Royal Household.

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