Thai court to hear first royal insult case under new king

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A Thai court agreed on Friday to put a prominent activist on trial for insulting the monarchy after he shared a BBC Thai-language profile of the new king, which some said was offensive, on Facebook.

Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, a law student and member of Dao Din, an anti-coup group, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Khon Kaen May 5, 2016. REUTERS/Amy Lefevre/File Photo

It was the first new case brought during the rule of King Maha Vajiralongkorn under the lese-majeste law, which sets jail sentences of up to 15 years for each offence of defaming, insulting of threatening the monarchy.

Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, 25, an activist who has staged several protests against Thailand’s junta, was arrested two days after the king ascended the throne in December.

The court in the northeastern town of Khon Kaen had agreed to the prosecutor’s request to put the activist on trial, said Atipong Poopiw, Jatupat’s lawyer.

“Pai denied all charges,” Atipong told Reuters, using Jatupat’s nickname. “We decline to disclose details of how we will fight this case.”

Jatupat also faces charges of violating Thailand’s cyber crime law for sharing the link. Requests for bail have been denied.

The link was shared by 2,410 other people, but rights groups said Jatupat was the only one charged.

Thailand’s junta has cracked down on critics of the monarchy since a 2014 coup and prosecutions increased further after the death of former King Bhumibol Adulyadej in October.

This week, a U.N. human rights expert and Amnesty International both criticized the lese-majeste law. The government defended it, saying it was not incompatible with international human rights law.

The case against Jatupat was a clear example of the law being used to target dissidents, said Sunai Phasuk, a senior Thailand researcher at New York-based Human Rights Watch.

“Constant attacks against Pai reflects how Thailand does not heed international concerns and criticism,” Sunai told Reuters.

In 2015, two people received jail sentences of 25 and 30 years respectively for Facebook posts deemed insulting to the monarchy.

Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Nick Macfie