Record jail terms for royal insults

Thai courts sentence man to 60 years and woman to 28 years for Facebook posts

Thailand's military courts yesterday handed down record jail sentences on two people for posting content on Facebook deemed insulting to the monarchy.

In Bangkok, Pongsak Sriboonpeng, a 48-year-old man from Kanchanburi province, was given a 60-year sentence for six online posts, but it was halved because he pleaded guilty. Each count drew a 10-year jail term.

Over in Chiang Mai, a military tribunal sentenced a 29-year-old woman to 28 years' jail for similarly defaming the Thai monarchy on Facebook. The tribunal had halved the sentence for the woman, whose name was reported as Sasivimon.

According to media reports, the military judges described her offence as a "violation of the monarchy, which is worshipped and respected by the people".

Prosecutions and jail terms under Article 112 - the harshest such law in the world, mandating a sentence of up to 15 years' jail for insulting the king, queen, heir or regent - have risen sharply since the ultra-royalist military regime seized power in Thailand in May last year.

"The defendant's action therefore severely affected the feelings of the people," the judges said.

The jail terms handed down yesterday under Thailand's Article 112, or lese majeste law, are the harshest since a "red shirt" activist was jailed for 25 years in March for posting insulting messages, also on Facebook.

Commenting on the judgments, Mr Sam Zarifi, the Bangkok-based regional director for Asia and the Pacific of the International Commission of Jurists, told The Straits Times: "These two sentences are unprecedentedly harsh, continuing a very alarming trend towards egregiously disproportionate sentences for posting comments on social media.''

He added: "For the defendants, who after all are only accused of exercising their right to free expression, this could mean potentially ruining their lives with sentences longer than what violent criminals receive in many countries.''

Prosecutions and jail terms under Article 112 - the harshest such law in the world, mandating a sentence of up to 15 years' jail for insulting the king, queen, heir or regent - have risen sharply since the ultra-royalist military regime seized power in Thailand in May last year.

According to iLaw, a group which monitors Article 112 cases, at least 51 people have been charged since the coup d'etat.

"As far as we know, 24 have been sentenced," a spokesman said in an e-mail yesterday.

Government agencies as well as royalist civilians have set up groups to track down anyone thought to be defaming the monarchy on the Internet. 

Last month, 10 people from an allegedly anti-monarchy network were each sentenced to five years in jail for making videos and audio recordings deemed to defame the royal family.

Details of Article 112 cases are rarely revealed or reported, as doing so itself could draw a charge under the law. Thus details on the two cases yesterday were thin.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 87, has reigned for 69 years and is currently frail and in hospital.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 08, 2015, with the headline 'Record jail terms for royal insults'. Print Edition | Subscribe