Thai court hands down rare suspended lese majeste sentence

BANGKOK • A Thai court has handed a rare suspended jail term to a man convicted of royal defamation, his lawyer said yesterday, as prosecutions under the controversial law surge in the junta-ruled country.

It is the first suspended sentence in a lese majeste case under the military regime, according to a local legal body, in a country where the monarchy is shielded by some of the toughest such laws in the world.

Niran Yaowapa was found guilty on Tuesday of posting a fake report about the health of Thailand's revered but ailing King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 87, on the website of an ultra-royalist local broadcaster in February. But the court showed leniency as Niran, 50, deleted the post "within 10 minutes", his lawyer Suwat Apaipakdi said, reducing by half and then suspending an initial five-year sentence.

"The court said Niran is not that old, so still has an opportunity to contribute to the country," he said.

Prosecutions under the archaic lese majeste law have rocketed since Thailand's military seized power in a coup last year.

Critics say the legislation has been politicised, noting that many of those sentenced in recent years have been linked to the "red shirt" street movement, which supports fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Niran, whose employer broadcaster ASTVManager is known for its anti-Shinawatra stance, said that he respected the court's decision.

On Oct 19, another man, a red-shirt activist, faces trial for sharing the same post, according to iLaw, a local group that monitors arrest figures.

Since grabbing power, the junta has stepped up online patrols for perceived royal insults. Anyone convicted of insulting the king, queen, heir or regent faces up to 15 years in jail on each count.

In a record sentence in August, a Thai court jailed a 48-year-old man for 30 years for "insulting" the monarchy on Facebook, drawing severe international condemnation, including from the United Nations.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 02, 2015, with the headline 'Thai court hands down rare suspended lese majeste sentence'. Print Edition | Subscribe