18 year sentence for former journalist, political activist-NY Times

September 22, 2009

Activist Gets 18-Year Term for Insulting Thai King

Thomas Fuller

The New York Times: August 28, 2009


A political activist was sentenced to 18 years in prison Friday for damaging the “reputation and honor” of the king and queen of Thailand, the latest in a string of convictions for insulting the country’s monarchy.

Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul, a former journalist, was sentenced to six years on each of three counts of insulting King Bhumibol Adulyadej during a political speech last year. She has been detained without bail since her arrest in July 2008, and her trial was closed to the public on national security grounds.

“It is what I expected to happen,” Ms. Daranee said. “I will appeal.”

Thailand has long maintained some of the world’s most strict laws against lèse-majesté, but only in recent years have they been put to use with such regularity.

The rise in cases may be related to anxiety about the 81-year-old king’s health and the future of the monarchy as well as the continuing political turmoil in the country.

Supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, known as “red shirts,” delivered a provocative petition to King Bhumibol’s aides on Aug. 17 requesting a pardon for Mr. Thaksin. They are planning a follow-up rally on Sunday. Mr. Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in 2006.

Ms. Daranee, who is described by the Thai media as being a member of the red shirts, was protesting the 2006 coup when she made her speech.

The three-judge panel ruled that even though she did not mention the king or queen by name in the speech, she had insinuated that they supported the coup. One of the ways she made her point, the judges said, was to refer to yellow and blue, the traditional Thai birth colors of the king and queen.

Among those charged with lèse-majesté recently are a number of strong-willed activists in a country that has traditionally prized deference.

In February, Giles Ungpakorn, a respected academic at one of the country’s leading universities, fled to Britain after being charged with insulting the monarchy in a book.

The Thai media have highlighted the cases of Chotisak Onsoong, a 28-year-old political activist who was questioned by the police after he refused to stand up during the playing of the royal anthem at a movie theater. Mr. Chotisak’s friend, Jitra Kochadech, a union activist, was fired from her job after she was shown on television wearing a T-shirt that said, “Not standing is not a crime.”

In April, Suwicha Thakhor, a 34-year-old mechanical engineer working for an oil rig company, was jailed for 10 years after the police traced to his home computer Internet postings deemed insulting to the monarchy.

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