BANGKOK – A court in Thailand gave on Monday four and a half years in prison to an author accused of writing comments critical of the royal family, according to a rights body.
The ruling comes amid a raging debate over Thailand’s strict lèse-majesté law that has triggered mass protests with a student-led movement calling for its annulment as part of their demand for democratic reforms in the country.
Since last July, at least 46 people, many of them student leaders, have been charged with lèse-majesté crimes.
The country’s penal code gives 3 to 15 years in prison for those who criticize or make comments that are considered insulting to the royal family.
Siraphop Kornaroot, who used the pseudonym Rungsira, was found guilty of breaking the country’s Computer Crimes Act and violating the lèse-majesté law by writing some Facebook posts and cartoons that allegedly insulted the then King Bhumibol between 2009 and 2014.
The two convictions together entailed six years in prison, but the court reduced it to four and a half years because “his testimony was useful,” Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said in a statement.
However, having already served nearly five years in jail, the 55-year-old poet and author will not have to go back to prison.
Siraphop Kornaroot was granted bail by a military court in June last year and temporarily freed from prison after four years and 11 months in detention for his online posts.
The author published poems and wrote comments critical of the king between 2009 and 2014 on the portal of the leftist newspaper Prachathai and social media.
He was first tried by a military court, which repeatedly refused to release him on bail.
Finally, the military court granted him bail on June 11, weeks before his house was transferred to a civil court.
Since King Vajiralongkorn was enthroned in 2016 after the death of his father, the oppressive lèse-majesté law had not been used. The law severely punishes anyone found guilty of having “defamed” or “insulted” the monarchy.
However, the authorities have brought it into focus in recent months to suppress the anti-monarchy student movement.
In most of these cases, the law has been used against organizers and demonstrators of the pro-democracy protests that began in July.
Student activists issued a list of demands to curb the king’s power in the country by amending the constitution.
However, the proposed demands were rejected by parliament in December.
The protesters have also called for the resignation of the prime minister, who seized power in the 2014 coup and returned to power last year after controversial elections.
The protesters have also demanded a new constitution that limits the power of the Thai army that has taken power in 13 riots since 1932.
The open call for reform of the monarchy is unprecedented and the boldest political demand from the protesters.
Such protests and demands were practically unthinkable not so long ago since the monarchy was considered untouchable.