The court had earlier announced that she was to face an eighty-seven-year sentence but then reduced it by half as she finally pleaded guilty.
The sentence which comes in the middle of an ongoing protest movement that has made the monarchy receive a lot of criticism was quickly condemned by the human rights organizations and groups.
“Today’s court verdict is shocking and sends a spine-chilling signal that not only criticisms of the monarchy won’t be tolerated, but they will also be severely punished,” said Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher for the group Human Rights Watch.
According to the law of the land, anyone who breaks Thailand’s lese majeste law-which is widely known as Article 112 – is subjected to a punishment of 3 to fifteen years imprisonment per count. This law is seen as controversial since it can punish someone for a simple act such as liking a Facebook post. The authorities or the royals can launch a complaint against you which can make one get involved in legal battles for years.
Over the last fifteen years of political unrest in Thailand, this law has been constantly used as a political weapon. However, public criticism of the monarchy has been rare until recently.
The situation has changed over the past year as young people have constantly protested in the quest for democratic reforms. They have also pushed for the reforms of the monarchy which has for long been regarded by many as an almost sacred institution by may Thais. The protestors have clearly stated that the institution is unaccountable and is accorded so much power in whereas it should be a democratic constitutional monarchy.
At first, Authorities let go much of the criticism go unpunished but in November, they made about fifty arrests and charged all these people with lese majeste.
Sunai said Tuesday’s sentence was likely meant to send a message, “It can be seen that Thai authorities are using lese majeste prosecution as their last resort measure in response to the youth-led democracy uprising that seeks to curb the king’s powers and keep him within the bound of constitutional rule. Thailand’s political tensions will now go from bad to worse,” he said.
When King Vajralongkorn took the throne in the year 2016 after his father’s death, he made it known that he would not wish to see the majeste law being exercised. But when the protests became more and more popular towards the end of the year 2020, and harsher criticism was directed at the monarchy. Prayuth Chan-Ocha ho is the Prime Minister warned that there was a line that if crossed, the majeste law could be exercised.
After the arrests were made, the protestor’s congregation has gone down significantly as there were new restrictions put forward limited gatherings following the increase of covid-19 cases.
The Human Rights Lawyers identified the lady who was arraigned in court by her first name Anchan and explained that she was in her mid-sixties.
Her case though dates back around six years ago when anti-establishment sentiments were growing right after the 2014 military coup which was led by Prayuth. She was held in custody from January 2015 up to November 2018.
She first denied the charges when her case was presented in military court when the offenses related to breaking the majeste law were persecuted for a period right after the coup. It was not until the case was moved to the criminal court that she pleaded guilty. She did this with the hope that the court would have sympathy for her actions since she only shared audio which she neither posted nor added a comment on it. This is what she told reporters on Tuesday upon arrival to the court.
“I thought it was nothing. There were so many people who shared this content and listened to it. The guy (who made the content) had done it for so many years,” Anchan said. “So I didn’t really think this through and was too confident and not being careful enough to realize at the time that it wasn’t appropriate.”
Sunai said that Tuesday’s sentence was meant to send a message to the public.
She clearly stated that she had worked as a civil servant for forty years and was one year away from retirement which means that if she got convicted, she would lose all her pension.
What stood as a record longest lese majeste judgment which was made in 2017 when a man was sentenced for thirty-five years was broken by the ruling made on this woman’s case. The man was a salesman who had initially been sentenced to seventy years but his sentenced was cut by half as he pleaded guilty to the offense.
Kyle James Lee – The AEGIS Alliance – This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.