Thai may face 150 years' jail over royal defamation

BANGKOK • A Thai human rights lawyer could be sentenced to a maximum of 150 years in prison after he was charged with a record 10 counts of royal defamation, a rights group said yesterday.

Prawet Prapanukul, a well- known critic of the law under which he is now being prosecuted, was detained by soldiers and police at his Bangkok home last Saturday.

Activists called for the release of the 57-year-old as the authorities refused to disclose his whereabouts or the charges he faced.

But, yesterday afternoon, he was charged in court with 10 counts of royal defamation and a separate charge of sedition.

"He was charged with 10 counts of 112 and for 116," Mr Anon Numpa, from Thai Lawyers from Human Rights, told Agence France-Presse. Section 112 of the criminal code outlaws any criticism of the King, Queen, heir or regent. Each count carries up to 15 years in jail and the section has been used with particular ferocity in recent years. Section 116 outlaws sedition.

Ten royal defamation charges is the most anyone has ever faced in Thailand since the law became increasingly used.

The UN's human rights body, which began monitoring cases in 2006, said the previous record was six charges for six separate Facebook posts written by a woman in 2015. At the end of her trial, she received a 60-year jail sentence that was halved after she pleaded guilty.

Rights groups have expressed shock at the latest charge.

"Imprisonment is never a proportionate penalty for the exercise of free expression, let alone the unthinkable possibility of 150 years," Mr Kingsley Abbott from the International Commission of Jurists, which has monitored lese majeste trials, said.

It is not known what Prawet said or wrote. However, the media in Thailand must heavily self-censor when reporting on the monarchy, including repeating any content deemed defamatory.

Trials are often held behind closed doors and acquittals are rare.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2017, with the headline 'Thai may face 150 years' jail over royal defamation'. Print Edition | Subscribe