Thai Activist Faces Record 50-Year Prison Sentence for Violations of Lese-Majeste Law

Activist's 50-Year Sentence Sparks International Concerns and Calls for Reform in Thailand's Lese-Majeste Laws.

Bangkok, Thailand: In a landmark ruling, a Thai appeal court has extended the prison sentence of Mongkol Thirakhot, a 30-year-old online clothes vendor and political activist, to a record-breaking 50 years for alleged violations of the country’s lese majeste law. This decision is believed to be the harshest penalty ever imposed under Thailand’s draconian royal insult laws, according to the legal rights group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR).

Mongkol, also known as “Busbas,” was initially sentenced to 28 years in prison in 2023 for social media posts deemed damaging to the monarchy. However, on Thursday, the court of appeal in Chiang Rai found him guilty of approximately a dozen more violations of the royal insult law and added 22 years to his sentence, as reported by TLHR.

The charges against Mongkol stem from 27 posts he made on Facebook in March and April of 2021. The content of these posts remains unclear. Criticizing the king, queen, or heir apparent in Thailand can result in a maximum 15-year prison sentence for each offense, making discussions about the royal family highly risky.

Despite the court reducing Mongkol’s sentence by a third due to his cooperation during proceedings, he now faces a total of 50 years in prison. The Supreme Court denied his bail request, but TLHR states that Mongkol plans to appeal the verdict.

The record-breaking sentence has sparked concerns and calls for reforms to Thailand’s lese-majeste law. Akarachai Chaimaneekarakate, advocacy lead at TLHR, emphasized that the extended prison term serves as a “wake-up call” for the government to amend the law and align it with international standards. He stressed that such reforms are essential for Thailand to be considered for membership in the UN Human Rights Council later this year.

This ruling comes in the context of Thailand’s increased use of the lese-majeste law against pro-democracy activists, leading to criticisms that it is being used to suppress dissent. The severity of Mongkol’s sentence highlights the ongoing challenges and human rights concerns surrounding the application of these laws in the country.

Thailand’s Lese-Majeste law:

Lese-Majeste, derived from the French term “lèse-majesté” meaning “injured majesty,” refers to laws that protect the dignity and honour of a reigning sovereign or state. In the context of Thailand, Lese-Majeste is codified under Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code. This law specifically addresses offences against the Thai monarchy, making it a criminal act to defame, insult, or threaten the king, queen, heir-apparent, or regent.

Key points about Thailand’s Lese-Majeste law:

  1. Legal Consequences: Violating Article 112 carries severe legal consequences. Individuals found guilty of Lese-Majeste offenses can face lengthy prison sentences. Criticizing or making negative remarks about the royal family, either in public or online, can lead to imprisonment.
  2. Maximum Penalties: The law allows for a maximum prison sentence of 15 years for each count of Lese-Majeste. This means that if someone is found guilty of multiple offenses, the cumulative sentences can be substantial.
  3. Controversies and Criticism: Thailand’s Lese-Majeste law has been a subject of controversy and international criticism. Critics argue that it stifles freedom of speech, discourages open political discourse, and can be used to suppress dissent.
  4. High-Profile Cases: The law has been enforced against various individuals, including activists, journalists, and ordinary citizens. Cases often gain international attention, and the severity of some sentences has sparked concerns about human rights.
  5. Amendments and Reforms: Over the years, there have been calls for reform and amendments to the Lese-Majeste law to bring it in line with international human rights standards. Some argue that the law is too broad and open to abuse.
  6. Political Context: The enforcement of Lese-Majeste laws has been intertwined with political developments in Thailand. During periods of political unrest, the law has been used as a tool to suppress opposition and maintain stability.
  7. Public Sentiment: The Thai monarchy holds significant cultural and historical importance in the country, and there is a strong cultural norm of respect for the royal institution. However, views on the Lese-Majeste law and its strict enforcement vary among the Thai population.

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