Thailand's Monarchy: A Struggle for Free Speech vs. Tradition

Thailand's courts handed jail terms to an activist musician and an opposition lawmaker for insulting the monarchy. The stringent lese-majeste law led to the imprisonment of several individuals advocating for monarchy reform. Activists continue to face legal battles, highlighting the ongoing tension between free speech and traditional royal reverence.

Reuters | Updated: 27-05-2024 16:14 IST | Created: 27-05-2024 16:14 IST
Thailand's Monarchy: A Struggle for Free Speech vs. Tradition
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Courts in Thailand handed jail terms on Monday to an activist musician who set fire to a portrait of the king and to an opposition lawmaker for insulting the monarchy, their lawyers said. Another monarchy-reform activist - who had gone on a partial hunger strike after being accused of harassing a royal motorcade and charged with sedition - was granted bail from pre-trial detention at a separate hearing, a legal aid group said.

The musician and the lawmaker had fallen foul of Thailand's lese-majeste law - one of the toughest of its kind in the world - which shields the powerful monarchy from criticism and carries a penalty of up to 15 years in jail for each offence. Chonthicha Jangrew, 31, a parliamentarian with the Move Forward Party, received a two-year term for a speech made in 2021 at an anti-government protest. She had denied the charge and was given bail pending an appeal, her lawyer Marisa Pidsaya told Reuters.

Another court sentenced musician Chaiamorn Kaewwiboonpan, 35, to four years in prison for burning a portrait of King Maha Vajiralongkorn. Chaiamorn, who was found guilty of arson, lese-majeste and computer crimes, had also denied the charge and said he set the portrait alight to vent frustration over the detention of fellow activists on royal insult charges.

The legal aid group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said Chaiamorn was also granted bail and intended to appeal. The courts have yet to issue statements on the sentences. The palace typically does not comment on the law.

More than 272 people have been charged under the lese-majeste law since 2020, and 17 are bring held in pre-trial detention, according to legal aid group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, which compiles data and has defended many of those prosecuted. LEGAL BATTLES

In the third ruling on Monday, a court granted 22-year-old Tantawan "Tawan" Tuatulanon bail from pre-trail detention, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said. She was arrested in February and charged with sedition and other violations after doing a live broadcast on her Facebook account showing her arguing with police who were blocking cars to clear the way for a motorcade carrying Princess Sirindhorn, the sister of King Maha Vajiralongkorn. She has denied the charges.

She was sent to a hospital outside prison earlier this month due to her weak physical condition, the legal aid group said. A youth-led political movement that emerged in 2020 broke traditional taboos by calling for the reform of the monarchy and has previously criticised the blocking of traffic for royal motorcades.

Two weeks ago, activist Netiporn "Bung" Sanesangkhom died while in pre-trial detention on charges that included insulting royals. She had also been on a partial hunger strike, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said. Chonthicha won a house seat last year with the popular opposition Move Forward, which has the most seats in parliament and is facing its own legal battles after it campaigned to amend the royal insults law.

Thailand's Constitutional Court ordered the party to remove it from its manifesto. The party also faces dissolution after that court ruled the plan to change the law was unconstitutional, and a hidden effort to undermine Thailand's system of governance, in which the king is the head of state.

Move Forward denies that, saying it wanted to prevent the law from being used as a political weapon. A separate complaint filed with another body seeks life bans for 44 current and former lawmakers over the bid to change the law.

One Move Forward lawmaker, Rukchanok Srinork, was sentenced last year to six years in prison over social media posts critical of the monarchy.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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