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World News

Thailand plans tougher lese majeste law

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand, which strictly enforces laws protecting the monarchy, plans to extend protection to royal advisers and other members of the royal family and restrict media coverage of cases, lawmakers said on Monday.

Under the proposed amendments, to be debated by the army-appointed parliament on Wednesday, journalists could be jailed for three years and fined 60,000 baht ($1,750) for ignoring a court-ordered publication ban.

“We don’t want any offence to the monarch to be repeated in the news or become an issue of any criticism” inside or outside Thailand, Supreme Court chief judge Pornpetch Wichitcholchai told Reuters.

Those protected by the expanded law would include sons and daughters of the monarch and royal advisers known as privy councillors, Pornpetch said.

“The current law doesn’t cover privy councillors, some of whom have become political victims,” he said.

Last month, the government threatened to block clips on video-sharing Web site YouTube that accused chief royal adviser Prem Tinsulanonda of masterminding last year’s bloodless coup.

Such allegations against Prem have been made by supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra during demonstrations and denied repeatedly by the generals and government they appointed.

The government lifted a five-month ban on YouTube’s site, www.youtube.com, in August after its owner, Google Inc, installed filters to stop Thais from accessing clips deemed to insult King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest reigning monarch.

Thailand’s lese majeste law is already among the toughest in the world, with jail terms of three to 15 years for anyone who “defames, insults or threatens” the king, queen, heir apparent or regent.

Under the proposed amendments, those found guilty of lese majeste against royal children face up to seven years in jail, and up to five years if it is against royal advisors, Pornpetch said.

The most recent conviction was of a Swiss man jailed for 10 years in March for defacing pictures of the king.

At the request of police, few Thai newspapers reported the case of Oliver Rudolf Jufer, who received a royal pardon and was deported.

“The police were doing the right thing and the media made the right decision not to report the story, but we are going to put those judgment calls into law,” Pornpetch said.

But a media rights advocacy group said the amendments would gravely violate people’s freedom of expression, which should be debated widely in the public, not by army-appointed legislators.

“The existing law is already very powerful to gag the people. There is no need to make it tougher,” said Supinya Klangnarong of the Campaign for Popular Media Reform.

“They should let the democratically elected lawmakers decide what to do with the current law,” she told Reuters.

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