A court in Thailand has sentenced another political activist to prison for insulting the country’s monarchy, the latest to be convicted under the country’s controversial lese majeste law.
Jatuporn Saeoueng, 25, was sentenced to three years imprisonment on Monday for donning traditional Thai attire at a political demonstration in October 2020 – an act that was deemed to be insulting to the country’s Queen Suthida. She was charged both with breaching the lese majeste law, which outlaws criticisms of the royal family and Thai monarchy, and the Public Safety Act. The sentence was immediately reduced to two years, The Associated Press reported.
The protest in question took the form of a mock fashion show that was intended to criticize the use of $416,000 in public funds to promote a fashion show that was being held to launch Princess Sirivannavari’s new collection of apparel.
During the protest, Jatuporn, commonly known as “New,” stepped delicately down a fake red carpet wearing a traditional pink silk dress, while a fellow protester held an umbrella over her. As BBC News reported, Queen Suthida, the wife of King Vajiralongkorn, often wears formal silk fashions at public events, while Thai royals also often have attendants who hold parasols over their heads at ceremonies and other events. As she walked down the red carpet, Coconuts reported, protesters chanted “Long live the queen!”
The court deemed this sufficient grounds for convicting Jatuporn for breaching Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code, the so-called lese majeste law, which carries prison terms of up to 15 years. The law is designed to discourage any critical discussion of the royal family, and the vast agglomerations of wealth and power that it helps to legitimize.
The mock fashion show was part of the wave of public demonstrations that took place in late 2020 and early 2021, demanding a number of political changes including new elections, the drafting of a new constitution, and – most explosively – limitations on the power of the Thai monarchy. The protests eventually petered out due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a legal crackdown by the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.
Despite initially showing some restraint in the use of the lese-majeste law, the authorities began issuing indictments in November 2020 and have since charged at least 210 people – many of them protest leaders and political activists – under the law. This has proceeded in parallel with a range of other measures designed to limit political freedoms.
As with the charge against Jatuporn, the lese majeste transgressions sometimes teeter on the edge of the absurd. In March, a court in Bangkok sentenced a political activist to two years in prison for placing a sticker on a portrait of the king. A previous case involved a former civil servant who was sentenced to a record 43-and-a-half years in prison after posting audio clips to Facebook and YouTube with comments deemed critical of the monarchy.
In an interview posted online prior to her sentencing that was quoted by The Associated Press, Jatuporn said that she had “no intention to mock anyone. I dressed for myself on that day, for a version of myself in a Thai traditional dress.” She pledged to appeal the verdict, all the way up to the Supreme Court if necessary.