Elderly Thai man jailed for 'royal insult' graffiti

BANGKOK (AFP) - An elderly Thai man was jailed by a military court Friday for scrawling graffiti in a shopping mall toilet critical of the country's junta leaders and its revered king.

Thailand's monarch Bhumibol Adulyadej, 87, is protected by one of the world's toughest royal defamation rules under which anyone convicted of insulting the king, queen, heir or regent faces up to 15 years in prison on each count.

Ophas Chansuksei, a 67-year-old pin-badge vendor, received a year and a half sentence for writing anti-monarchy and anti-government messages in an eastern Bangkok mall last October.

The judge described the comments as "false" and said they "lowered the value of the king". His sentence was cut from three years because he pleaded guilty, the judge added.

An AFP reporter inside the military court said Ophas, grey-haired and dressed in rose coloured prison clothes, remained impassive as the sentence was read out.

But his wife struggled to hold back her tears.

Speaking after sentencing, Ophas said he was relieved that the sentence had been reduced for his guilty plea.

"Soldiers told me when I was detained that if I didn't like someone I should keep it in my heart. I shouldn't have done it," he told AFP.

During the brief hearing the judge read out what Ophas had written on the wall. The majority of his comments were critical of Thailand's junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who imposed martial law and then seized power in a coup last May.

But one sentence made reference to King Bhumibol.

Reporting lese majeste cases is fraught with difficulty and media must heavily self-censor. Even repeating details of the charges could mean breaking the law under section 112.

Rights groups say basic freedoms have fallen off a cliff since last May's military takeover, following the ousting of Yingluck's democratically elected government, and that draconian lese majeste legislation is increasingly being used as a tool to stifle political opposition.

Under martial law, political gatherings of more than five people are banned, criticism of the junta is outlawed and civilians can be tried in military courts for national security or lese majeste offences.