Thai 'Red Shirt' leader sentenced to two years in jail for defaming royalist ex-PM Abhisit

Jatuporn Prompan, the leader of the Thai opposition Red Shirt movement, speaks with his supporters at the Criminal Court in Bangkok on Wednesday, Jan 28, 2015. Jatuporn was sentenced to two years' jail by a Thai court for defaming former prime m
Jatuporn Prompan, the leader of the Thai opposition Red Shirt movement, speaks with his supporters at the Criminal Court in Bangkok on Wednesday, Jan 28, 2015. Jatuporn was sentenced to two years' jail by a Thai court for defaming former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. -- PHOTO: AFP 

BANGKOK (AFP) - A Thai court Wednesday sentenced a leader of the opposition Red Shirt movement to two years in prison for defaming a former premier, in a move analysts said was the latest attack against critics of the military regime.

The ruling comes days after the retroactive impeachment and announcement of corruption charges against ex-prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, whose toppled government was backed by the Red Shirts before May's army coup.

The court convicted Jatuporn Prompan on two counts of defamation against former royalist prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva during speeches he made in October 2009.

"The verdict is two years in prison without suspension," a court official told AFP.

Jatuporn, chairman of the Red Shirts, has faced a slew of court cases including for slander in recent years.

His lawyer Wiyat Chatmontree confirmed the sentencing and said his client is applying for bail.

"We have posted 200,000 baht (S$5,391) for bail and the court will rule this afternoon," he said.

Thailand analyst David Streckfuss told AFP the ruling was the latest attempt to quash any opposition to the military regime.

"It seems to be part of a larger plan by the Bangkok establishment to silence and force aside their vocal critics," he said.

Yingluck was impeached by a junta-stacked parliament last Friday, leading to an automatic five-year ban from politics. She had been forced out of office in a controversial court ruling before the military's coup.

The same day she was impeached, prosecutors announced corruption charges that could see her face a decade in jail.

Experts say the move against Thailand's first female premier and the sister of former leader Thaksin Shinawatra is the latest attempt by the country's royalist elite, and its army backers, to nullify the political influence of the Shinawatras.

Thailand's long-running political conflict broadly pits Bangkok's middle-class and royalist elites, backed by parts of the military, against rural and working-class voters loyal to Thaksin.

Parties led by or aligned to the Shinawatras have won every election in Thailand since 2001.