Thai Court Announces Another Harsh Prison Sentence Under Royal Insult Law

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Thai Court Announces Another Harsh Prison Sentence Under Royal Insult Law

The 25-year jail term came just days after the Election Commission ordered the disbanding of a major opposition party for advocating the reform of the lese-majeste law.

Thai Court Announces Another Harsh Prison Sentence Under Royal Insult Law
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A Thai court has handed down another harsh prison term against a defendant accused of criticizing the country’s monarchy, in this case on social media. In a ruling yesterday, the Bangkok Post reported that the Southern Bangkok Criminal Court sentenced to 25 years in prison a 26-year-old defendant identified only as “Maggie.”

The convictions stemmed from 18 messages about the monarchy that Maggie posted on X (formerly Twitter) between December 2022 and October 2023, the Post reported. The court found that 14  of these messages violated the Article 112 of the Thai criminal code, also known as the lese-majeste law, and the Computer Crime Act. The remaining four were found to have only violated the latter law.

The sentence was initially set at 50 years, but was cut in half after Maggie, a transgender woman from Yasothon province in Thailand’s northeast, pled guilty to the charges.

Prior to her arrest last October, Maggie had participated in demonstrations organized by the pro-democracy Ratsadon group in 2020. The protests, which were dominated by young Thais radicalized by the period of military rule after the coup of 2014, were notable for airing open criticisms of the institution of the monarchy, which were previously rarely heard in public.

“Thank you to everyone outside for pushing forward, keeping track of those of us inside, and for all the moral support,” Maggie told journalists after hearing the verdict, according to BenarNews. “As for me, on the inside, I will continue to fight.”

The charges are just the latest in a long series of criminal cases involving the use of the lese-majeste law, which criminalizes critical comments of the monarchy and royal family and carries a punishment of up to 15 years in prison. This law has been a crucial part of the legal arsenal that has been used to pursue the leaders and participants of the youth-dominated protests.

Since July 2020, according to the legal advocacy group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, at least 1,951 people have been prosecuted in connection with the protests of 2020 and 2021. Of these, at least 268 individuals were charged with lese-majeste for making criticisms of the Thai monarchy. Some have been sent down for significant sentences, including one man who was sentenced in January to 50 years in prison, also for social media posts.

The lese-majeste law is also the pretext for the likely dissolution of the progressive Move Forward Party (MFP), which won last year’s general election but was barred from forming the government by the military-appointed Senate. Earlier this week, the country’s Election Commission requested that the Constitutional Court dissolve the MFP, because of its campaign promise to amend Article 112. This came after the Constitutional Court itself ruled that the pledge to reform the law amounted to an attempt to destroy Thailand’s political system.

The MFP and its allies argue that Article 112 is a block on any productive discussion of an institution that forms the linchpin of a deeply unequal status quo – and, of course, it is for precisely this reason that the establishment will not countenance its reform.

In a post on X earlier this week, Gregory Raymond of the Australian National University pointed to the circular logic of Thai conservative claims that such scrutiny is dangerous. “Thailand’s 112 (lese majeste law) is necessary because the monarchy is essential to national security,” he wrote. “Why the monarchy is essential to national security can’t be discussed because of 112.”