A Thai court sentences an opposition lawmaker to 2 years in prison for defaming the monarchy

A Thai court sentences an opposition lawmaker to 2 years in prison for defaming the monarchy

A Thai court sentences an opposition lawmaker to 2 years in prison for defaming the monarchy

A Thai court has sentenced a lawmaker from a progressive opposition party to two years in prison after finding her guilty of defaming the monarchy in a speech she made during a protest rally three years ago

ByJINTAMAS SAKSORNCHAI Associated Press

May 27, 2024, 1:52 AM

    BANGKOK -- A Thai court on Monday sentenced a lawmaker from a progressive opposition party to two years in prison after finding her guilty of defaming the monarchy in a speech she made during a protest rally three years ago.

    Chonthicha Jangrew of the Move Forward Party was greeted by several supporters when she arrived at the Thanyaburi Provincial Court in Pathum Thani province, north of Bangkok, with some party colleagues. Chonthicha, popularly known by her nickname “Lookkate,” represents a constituency in Pathum Thani.

    Her charges stemmed from her speech in 2021 that demanded the release of all political prisoners during a rally in front of the same court that delivered Monday’s sentence.

    She was found guilty for parts of the speech concerning how the government then led by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha had amended laws to give King Vajiralongkorn more power to control the palace wealth, which is managed by the Crown Property Bureau.

    The judge said her speech could misinform the public by suggesting that King Vajiralongkorn can spend taxpayers’ money for his personal use and use his influence to interfere with politics, which could tarnish his reputation.

    The judge originally sentenced her to three years in prison, but reduced it to two years because of her cooperation in the trial. The law for defaming the monarchy, an offense known as lese majeste, carries a penalty of three to 15 years imprisonment. It is widely referred to as Article 112 from its place in the Criminal Code.

    Chonthicha was afterwards released on bail of 150,000 baht ($4,100). Had bail not been granted and she been sent directly to prison, she would have immediately been removed from her seat in Parliament.

    She told reporters that she wasn’t surprised about the verdict as the majority of 112 charges led to convictions.

    She said she will appeal, adding that she was glad to have been granted release on bail but wished that other political prisoners were given the same right.

    A young activist charged with lese majeste died in detention earlier this month after carrying out a monthslong hunger strike to protest the revocation of her bail in January.

    Chonthicha and nine other defendants in the case were charged with other offenses including illegal assembly and violating an emergency decree enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic. All 10 were acquitted of those charges. Chonthicha was the only one who had been charged with violating the lese majeste law.

    Before becoming a politician, Chonthicha had been an activist since she was a college student. She became a high-profile figure in the youth-dominated movement by confronting the police during the mass street protests that demanded democratic reform of several powerful institutions including the monarchy.

    Chonthicha, 31, won a seat in last year’s general election, part of a surprise victory for the progressive Move Forward Party that shook Thai politics.

    However, it failed to take power after the party was out-maneuvered by influential conservative forces, as members of the Senate refused to approve the party's leader as prime minister.

    Criticism of Thailand’s monarchy is considered taboo, and insulting or defaming key royal family members is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

    But student-led pro-democracy protests began to challenge that taboo in 2020, openly criticizing the monarchy. That led to vigorous prosecutions under what was previously a little-used law. Critics say the law is often wielded as a tool to quash political dissent.

    The advocacy group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights says that since early 2020, more than 270 people — many of them student activists — have been charged with violating Article 112.

    In December, another lawmaker from the Move Forward Party was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison over two posts she allegedly shared two years ago on the social media platform X, then known as Twitter. She appealed and was granted release on bail.

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