Portrait of Thai royal insult exile sold to help activists

File photo: Somsak Jeamteerasakul holds flowers and waves to his supporters before leaving a police station in Bangkok May 11, 2011. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A portrait of a prominent critic of the Thai monarchy was sold in an online auction for $6,745 (4,803.10 pounds), which will go into a fund for activists facing legal cases in junta-ruled Thailand, including royal insult cases, a manager for the fund said on Monday.

Laws against insulting the monarchy, or lese-majeste, are strictly enforced in Thailand, with those found guilty facing up to 15 years in prison on each charge.

Since the military took power in a 2014 coup, at least 94 people have been prosecuted for lese-majeste, according to the iLaw group, which monitors royal insult cases.

At least 20 have been forced into exile to avoid the charges. The United Nations has called on Thailand to stop using the laws to stifle free speech.

A cartoon portrait of Thai academic Somsak Jeamteerasakul, who was forced to flee the country in 2014 to avoid royal insult charges, was sold for 211,120 baht ($6,745) after an eight-hour online auction on Facebook on Sunday.

The portrait was signed by Somsak, who lives in Paris.

Money raised from the auction will go into a fund to help those facing political charges, said the fund's co-manager Anon Nampa, a pro-democracy activist and human rights lawyer.

"This money will go towards supporting legal costs for such cases involving rights, freedom of expression and lese-majeste," Anon told Reuters.

The auction's winner, who asked to remain anonymous, said he hoped there would be more auctions to raise money for activists.

"I hope it will be a game-changer movement," he told Reuters.

The portrait was drawn by a junta critic known as Kai Maew, whose Facebook page, which featured anti-junta comic strips, was taken down last month.

The military government denies using lese-majeste laws to silence critics and says they are necessary to protect national security.

The auction came amid a rise in dissent including public demonstrations calling on the junta to hold a general election in November as promised, amid concerns the vote could be delayed.


(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um; Writing by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Nick Macfie)