Royal insults get Darunee 18 years-Bloomberg

September 22, 2009

Thai Woman Gets 18 Years in Prison for Royal Insult

Daniel Ten Kate and Anuchit Nguyen

Bloomberg: August 28, 2009

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601127&sid=aE_RK5jR36LY

A Thai court sentenced a supporter of former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra to 18 years in prison for insulting and threatening the royal family in a June 2008 speech, the longest jail term known for such a crime.

Darunee Charnchoengsilpakul was found guilty of three charges stemming from her claim that King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit backed the 2006 coup against Thaksin, Bangkok’s Criminal Court said in a statement today. Each charge carried a six-year term, the court said.

Darunee was accused of “defaming and making a life threatening statement in public against the King, Queen and heir apparent,” according to the statement. Darunee, 46, told reporters outside the courtroom she will appeal the verdict.

Her sentencing follows that of a Thai blogger who was given 10 years in prison in April after he pleaded guilty to doctoring photos of the king and posting them on the Internet. Almost a dozen lese majeste cases are under investigation, including against a BBC journalist, an anti-government protest leader and a prominent Buddhist activist.

The 18-year term “is a surprisingly tough sentence at a time when the law is being heavily scrutinized by international free speech groups,” said David Streckfuss, a Thailand-based academic who has written about the law. “The larger statement would be if the Supreme Court upheld this sentence.”

More than 50 international academics wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in March calling for reforms to the law to prevent “further damage to the international reputation of Thailand and the monarch.” In response, he pledged to review the law to make it clearer.

Abhisit took power last December after his party backed a royalist protest group. His government has blocked at least 2,300 Web sites since January that it says insult the king and created a site encouraging people to report royal insults.

Thailand’s constitution says the king “shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated.” The lese-majeste law makes it a criminal offense to defame, insult or threaten the king, queen, heir apparent or regent. Offenders face as many as 15 years in prison per charge.

In June, London-based human rights group Amnesty International called on Thailand to open Darunee’s trial to the public. Darunee said the trial against her was biased and she wouldn’t accept any verdict in the case, the Nation newspaper reported earlier this month, citing an interview.

King Bhumibol, 81, has ruled for six decades, making him an enduring force in a country that has seen 10 coups since absolute monarchy was abolished in 1932. Thaksin’s supporters have accused his top adviser of masterminding the coup and have called for constitutional changes that decrease the role of the Privy Council, judges and bureaucrats.

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at dtenkate@bloomberg.net;

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