Thai royal insult prisoner "Uncle SMS" dies in jail
BANGKOK (Reuters) - A Thai man who was jailed for 20 years after being found guilty of sending text messages disrespectful to Queen Sirikit has died in jail a few months into his sentence, his lawyer said on Tuesday.
The case last November of Amphon Tangnoppaku, 61, who the media nicknamed "Uncle SMS", had stoked a debate about the harsh sentences imposed in Thailand for lese-majeste, or insulting the king, queen or crown prince.
"Uncle was admitted to the prison's infirmary unit after experiencing severe stomach pains since Friday," Amphon's lawyer, Anon Numpa, told Reuters. "We haven't found out the cause of death yet but he had been battling cancer."
During his trial, Amphon had denied sending the SMS messages to a government official, saying he did not even know how to send such messages from his mobile telephone.
Successive governments have ignored international calls to reform the lese-majeste laws, a highly sensitive issue in a country where 84-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej is regarded as semi-divine.
The laws are increasingly questioned in Thailand itself, with some critics arguing the legislation is abused to discredit activists and politicians opposed to the royalist establishment.
Lawyer Anon also said a request for a royal pardon for another client, Lerpong Wichaikhammat, known as Joe Gordon, had been approved by the Ministry of Justice and was being forwarded to the Bureau of the Royal Household.
Gordon, a Thai-born U.S. citizen, was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail in December 2011 after pleading guilty to using the Internet to disseminate information that insulted the monarchy.
The U.S. embassy criticized the severity of the sentence and said it supported freedom of expression in Thailand as elsewhere in the world.
(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Sinsiri Tiwutanond; Editing by Alan Raybould and Robert Birsel)
- Air strike kills 15 civilians in Yemen by mistake: officials
- North Korea executes leader's powerful uncle in rare public purge |
- Insight: In Yemen, al Qaeda gains sympathy amid U.S. drone strikes
- Storm to cloak Midwest to Northeast in snow, freezing rain
- Twitter backtracks on block feature after users revolt |
Thousands line up to say goodbye to Nelson Mandela, whose body is lying in state in Pretoria. Slideshow