A man has been sentenced to 35 years in prison Facebook posts deemed defamatory to the Thai monarchy.
The Bangkok military court initially sentenced a salesman to 70 years’ imprisonment on 10 counts of lese majeste – insulting the monarchy – but halved the sentence because he had pleaded guilty, according to Sorawut Wongsaranon of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.
The man as only been identified by the name Wichai in order to protect his privacy. The harsh sentence is thought to be the longest of its kind handed down to date.
Lese majeste is punishable by three to 15 years’ imprisonment per incident in Thailand. There has been a sharp rise in cases since a military took power in a coup in 2014 and decreed that the crime would be prosecuted in military courts.
The upsurge in cases came as Thailand was undergoing a royal transition, with the decline and death in October last year of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and his succession by his son, now King Maha Vajiralongkorn. However, critics of the law say it is often used as a tool of political repression.
The previous record was believed to have been set in August 2015, when another man was found guilty of six counts of lese majeste for postings on Facebook and given a 60-year sentence, halved to 30 years.
Wichai’s apparent motive in posting the defamatory messages was to cause trouble for a former colleague he believed had cheated him, said a case summary on the website of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. He was arrested in December 2015.
Thailand’s lese majeste law is the world’s harshest and routinely draws criticism from the United Nations and rights groups.
“The lese majeste provision of the Thai Criminal Code is incompatible with international human rights law,” United Nations Special Rapporteur David Kaye said in a February statement, declaring that the law has “no place in a democratic country”.
The military government says the law is necessary to safeguard the monarchy and national security.
In recent months, several Thai officials have threatened Facebook with legal sanctions if it failed to remove defamatory posts in a timely matter.
In a separate case also on Friday, the Supreme Court upheld a verdict sentencing another lese majeste convict to two-and-a-half years in prison for uploading an audio file of a political commentator deemed insulting to the monarchy.