Thai court jails blind woman for 1-1/2 years over royal insult

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A Thai court on Thursday jailed a blind woman for 1-1/2 years for violating the country’s royal insult law, her lawyer and a court official said.

Thailand’s lese-majeste law is the toughest in the world, and those judged guilty of breaking it face up to 15 years in jail for each count of offending the king, queen, heir or regent.

Nurhayati Masoh, 23, was found guilty after she posted on her Facebook account an article by Giles Ungpakorn, a Thai-British academic and vocal opponent of the Thai monarchy who fled Thailand after he was charged with lese majeste in 2009.

“She confessed that she posted it,” Kaosar Aleemama, a lawyer for Nurhayati, told Reuters. “But she did not realize it would lead to such a harsh punishment.”

Nurhayati, who uses a computer application that helps the visually impaired to post on social media, was arrested in November and sentenced to three years in jail by a court in the southern province of Yala.

“The case against her was filed on November 28, 2017 and she has been detained since,” an official at the Yala Provincial Court, who declined to be named, told Reuters.

Nurhayati’s confession led to her sentence being halved, he added.

Thailand’s military, which took control of government in a May 2014 coup, has ramped up online censorship, particularly of perceived insults to the monarchy.

Since the coup, at least 94 people have been prosecuted for lese majeste. As many as 43 people have been sentenced, says the iLaw group that monitors royal insult case, with 92 percent of them pleading guilty in hopes of receiving a shorter jail term.

“There may be more cases that we do not know about,” Yingcheep Atchanont, iLaw’s project manager, told Reuters.

The laws protecting members of the royal family from insult limit what all news organizations, including Reuters, can report from Thailand.

The United Nations has expressed concern over what it calls a deteriorating rights situation in Thailand, including harsh sentences for those convicted of violating the lese-majeste law, known as Article 112.

The junta has said it needs to crack down on critics of the monarchy for the sake of national security.

Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat, Panarat Thepgumpanat and Panu Wongcha-um; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Clarence Fernandez