Thai Courts Impose Severe Penalties Under Controversial Royal Insult Law

Last Updated on May 27, 2024 2:11 pm

In a move that underscores the contentious nature of Thailand’s lese-majeste law, courts handed down significant jail sentences on Monday to an opposition lawmaker and a musician for allegedly insulting the monarchy. These rulings highlight the ongoing debate over the country’s stringent laws protecting the royal family from criticism.

Chonthicha Jangrew, a 31-year-old parliamentarian from the Move Forward Party, received a two-year prison sentence for a speech made during an anti-government protest in 2021. Although she was granted bail pending an appeal, the verdict marks a significant moment in the application of the lese-majeste law against elected officials. Her lawyer, Marisa Pidsaya, confirmed the sentencing to Reuters.

Simultaneously, musician Chaiamorn Kaewwiboonpan, 35, was sentenced to four years in prison for burning a portrait of King Maha Vajiralongkorn. Chaiamorn was convicted of arson, lese-majeste, and computer crimes. Despite denying the charges, he remains in custody while seeking bail and planning to appeal the decision, according to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), a group that has been actively defending those prosecuted under the lese-majeste law.

Thailand’s lese-majeste law, one of the harshest of its kind globally, allows for penalties of up to 15 years in prison per offense. The law’s extensive reach and severe penalties have drawn international criticism, with human rights organizations arguing it suppresses freedom of expression.

Since 2020, over 272 individuals have been charged under this law, with 17 currently held in pre-trial detention, TLHR reports. High-profile cases include a 65-year-old woman sentenced to 43 years for social media posts in 2021 and a man who received an additional 22 years to his existing 28-year sentence for similar offenses.

Chonthicha’s case is particularly significant as she is a prominent member of the Move Forward Party, which holds the most seats in parliament and has been advocating for the reform of the lese-majeste law. However, the party has faced severe legal challenges, including a court ruling deeming its amendment proposal unconstitutional, which has led to calls for the party’s dissolution.

Move Forward argues that its goal is to prevent the lese-majeste law from being used as a political weapon. The party’s leader, Rukchanok Srinork, was sentenced last year to six years in prison over social media posts critical of the monarchy. These legal battles highlight the fraught political environment in Thailand, where the monarchy remains a sensitive and protected institution.

The case of musician Chaiamorn Kaewwiboonpan also drew attention when he admitted to burning the king’s portrait as a form of protest against the detention of fellow activists. His actions and subsequent punishment reflect the deep frustrations among certain segments of Thai society regarding the use of lese-majeste charges.

The recent rulings come shortly after the death of activist Netiporn “Bung” Sanesangkhom, who died in pre-trial detention on charges including royal insult while on a partial hunger strike, according to TLHR. Her death has further fueled the debate over the treatment of those accused under the lese-majeste law and the conditions within Thai detention facilities.

These cases underline the ongoing struggle over freedom of expression in Thailand and the powerful role the monarchy plays in the nation’s legal and political framework. As the legal battles continue, the international community and human rights advocates remain watchful of how these laws are applied and the implications for Thai democracy and civil liberties.

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