Sat, Oct 05, 2013 - Page 6 News List

Defaming monarch remains a serious crime in Thailand

The Guardian, BANGKOK

A political activist convicted of defaming Thailand’s monarchy is to be freed from prison after being granted a royal pardon — in the same week that two others were jailed for similar offenses, despite their cases having previously been dismissed.

The recent sentences highlight the “unconditional taboo” of speaking out against the royal family, human rights activists say, in a nation with some of the harshest lese majeste laws in the world.

Surachai Danwattananusorn, 71, who led a branch of the red-shirt movement, was sentenced last year to seven-and-a-half years in prison for remarks he made in three speeches during the protests in 2010. Surachai filed for a royal pardon last year and was expected to be released from a Bangkok prison on Thursday.

His release follows the appeal court’s decision this week to overturn acquittals made in two other lese majeste cases.

In one case, a royalist yellow-shirt leader and media mogul, Sondhi Limthongkul, was sentenced to two years for repeating allegedly anti-royalist comments originally made by a follower of former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Sondhi’s case had been initially thrown out on the grounds that he was repeating the comments in a call for the pro-Thaksin activist to be prosecuted. On Tuesday, however, an appeal court overturned that dismissal on the grounds that Sondhi was “[making] those words known to an even wider audience.” He is expected to appeal.

In the second case, the appeals court overturned another previous dismissal, this one concerning online comments posted by a Thai woman in 2008. While a criminal court initially ruled that there was insufficient evidence to convict Noppawan Tangudomsuk, a judge ruled this week that an investigation had shown “that the messages posted originated form the defendant’s computer.”

Thailand’s lese majeste laws punish those found guilty of “defaming, insulting or threatening the king, queen or heir to the throne or regent.” Each offense carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in jail.

Critics claim the laws are used to silence debate and dissent.

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