Thailand: Man sentenced to record 50-year prison term for insulting monarchy

The online clothes vendor and political activist was arrested in April 2021 over 27 posts he made on Facebook during March and April of that year

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Image used for illustrative purpose. Photo: File
Image used for illustrative purpose. Photo: File

Published: Sat 20 Jan 2024, 10:53 AM

A Thai appeals court extended a man's sentence to a record 50 years of prison on Thursday for insulting the monarchy, CNN reported.

This is believed to be the toughest penalty ever imposed under the country's lese majeste law, according to a legal rights group.

Mongkol Thirakhot, 30, an online clothes vendor and political activist from northern Chiang Rai province, was originally sentenced to 28 years in prison in 2023 for making social media posts that were deemed 'damaging' to the king.

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On Thursday, the court of appeals in Chiang Rai found Mongkol guilty of about a dozen more violations of the royal insult law and added 22 years to his sentence, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said in a statement.

Notably, Thailand has some of the world's strictest lese majeste laws, and criticising the king, queen, or heir apparent can lead to a maximum 15-year prison sentence for each offence — which makes even talking about the royal family fraught with risk, CNN reported.

Those convicted under Section 112 of Thailand's Criminal Code, or lese majeste law, can see sentences decades-long and hundreds of people have been prosecuted in recent years.

27 posts on Facebook

Mongkol, also known as "Busbas," was arrested in April 2021 over 27 posts he made on Facebook during March and April of that year. A criminal court found him guilty of 14 violations of lese majeste and sentenced him in January 2023 to 28 years.

However, it is not clear what the content of the posts contained, as per CNN.

The appeals court on Thursday not only upheld Mongkol's earlier conviction but, in addition, found him guilty in 11 of the 13 cases that the lower court had earlier dismissed and so imposed the longer sentence, TLHR said.

The court told Mongkol his sentence had been reduced by a third due to his cooperation during proceedings.

The Supreme Court denied Mongkol's bail request but TLHR said he plans to appeal the verdict.

"The record-breaking 50-year prison sentence imposed on (Mongkol) for his Facebook posts makes it undeniable that Thailand's anachronistic lese-majeste law is in dire need of reforms," said Akarachai Chaimaneekarakate, advocacy lead at TLHR.

Akarachai said "it is a wake-up call" to the government to "amend the law and bring it in line with international standards."

"Thailand cannot expect to become a member of the UN Human Rights Council later this year if it refuses to address the elephant in the room," he said.

Record jail time

According to CNN, the previous record jail time for a lese majeste conviction was in 2021 when Anchan Preelert, 65, was sentenced to 43 years for sharing audio clips on YouTube and Facebook between 2014 and 2015 that were deemed critical of the kingdom's royal family. The court initially handed Anchan a sentence of 87 years but halved it because of her guilty plea.

For years, human rights organisations and free speech campaigners have said lese majeste has been used as a political tool to silence critics of the Thai government.

Anyone - ordinary citizens as well as the government - can bring lese majeste charges on behalf of the king, even if they are not directly involved with the case.

But rights groups say the right to freedom of expression in Thailand has come under increased attack since 2020, when youth-led protests erupted across the country demanding constitutional and democratic reforms that included reducing the military's power and influence in politics and reforms to the powerful monarchy.

TLHR said that since the start of those protests in July 2020, at least 1,938 people have been prosecuted for their participation in political assemblies and for speaking out, with 286 of those cases involving children, CNN reported.

At least 262 people have been charged with lese majeste during that time, the group added.

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