Two More Thai Activists Sentenced to Prison on Lese-Majeste Charges

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Two More Thai Activists Sentenced to Prison on Lese-Majeste Charges

Both were granted bail pending an appeal, following the recent death of a monarchy-reform activist in custody.

Two More Thai Activists Sentenced to Prison on Lese-Majeste Charges

Chonthicha “Lookkate” Jangrew, a parliamentarian with the Move Forward Party (MFP), who was yesterday sentenced to two years imprisonment for breaching Thailand’s harsh lese-majeste law.

Credit: Facebook/Lookkate Chonthicha – ลูกเกด ชลธิชา แจ้งเร็ว

Thailand has sentenced two more opposition figures to hefty prison terms for insulting the monarchy, though both were released on bail pending appeal, in an apparent break from recent practice.

In a hearing yesterday, judges at the Thanyaburi Provincial Court in Pathum Thani province, north of Bangkok, sentenced Chonthicha Jangrew, a parliamentarian with the Move Forward Party (MFP), to two years in prison for a speech that she made at an anti-government protest in 2021. The 31-year-old denied the charge and was given bail pending an appeal, her lawyer told Reuters, allowing her to hold on to her parliamentary seat.

Chonthicha rose to prominence during the large public protests of 2020 and 2021, which were notable for open criticisms of the Thai monarchy, and calls for reforms to restrict its supra-political power and prerogatives. She was later elected to parliament with the MFP in Pathum Thani, during the party’s upset victory at last year’s general election. (The MFP was later blocked from forming government by the military-appointed Senate.)

Chonthicha, who goes by the nickname “Lookkate,” is one of dozens of protest leaders and participants who have been charged under Article 112 of the country’s penal code, also known as the lese-majeste law, which criminalizes critical comments about the monarchy. The advocacy group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights puts the toll of  “Article 112ers” at around 270, most of them students who took part in the 2020-2021 protests.

Her lese-majeste charge related to a speech that she gave in September 2021, criticizing the government’s decision to give King Vajiralongkorn more power to control the Crown Property Bureau, a vast repository of royal wealth. As The Associated Press reported, the judge said that her speech “had the potential to 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.”

Also yesterday, another court sentenced the activist musician Chaiamorn Kaewwiboonpan, 35, to four years in prison for burning a portrait of the king, Reuters reported. Chaiamorn has also denied the charge and said he set alight the portrait to express his frustration over the detention of fellow activists under Article 112. He was also released on bail pending an appeal.

The fact that both defendants were granted bail is notable. Incidentally, in a third ruling yesterday, another monarchy-reform activist, 22-year-old Tantawan “Tawan” Tuatulanon, was granted bail from pre-trial detention. The charges relate to an incident in February in which Tantawan did a broadcast on Facebook Live showing her arguing with police officers who were blocking cars for a passing royal motorcade. Tantawan also faces lese-majeste charges for conducting public opinion polls about royal motorcades in 2022.

While bail is not uncommon in the Thai legal system, it is often refused in politically sensitive lese-majeste cases. The advocacy group Human Rights Watch recently criticized the Thai government’s “use of arbitrary arrest and pretrial detention to punish critics of the monarchy.” Indeed, a number of activists on pretrial detention have staged hunger strikes in order to protest the conditions of their internment, among them Tantawan, who in January 2023 asked a judge to revoke her bail in solidarity with other activists facing lese-majeste charges.

The sudden apparent generosity of the Thai courts in granting bail is likely related to the death on May 14 of activist Netiporn “Bung” Sanesangkhom, who took part in a partial hunger strike while in pre-trial detention on charges that included lese-majeste. The group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said yesterday that Tantawan had also been sent to a hospital outside prison earlier this month due to her weak physical condition. This followed her hospitalization for a hunger strike after her imprisonment in early 2023.