World News

Thai man gets 10 years jail for insulting monarchy

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A Thai court sentenced a man to 10 years in jail on Friday for posting comments on the Internet that were deemed insulting to the country’s monarchy.

Suwicha Thakhor, 37, was arrested in January after police traced the postings to his home computer in Nakhon Phanom, a province in northeast Thailand.

“He went to jail because we found these messages on the Internet, which he had posted,” Pichit Nondasuwan, the prosecutor in charge of the case, told Reuters.

Suwicha had his sentence reduced from 20 years after he pleaded guilty to two charges of lese-majeste, Pichit said.

Lese-majeste, or insulting the monarchy, is a very serious offence in Thailand, where many people regard 81-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej as semi-divine. Each offence is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Critics of the law say it is open to abuse since a complaint can be filed by anybody against anybody, no matter how minor the alleged disrespect.

In February, an Australian writer received a royal pardon after he was sentenced a month earlier to three years in jail for defaming the crown prince in a little-read novel.

The law has been a regular feature of the charged political atmosphere in Thailand in the past three years. The generals who overthrew Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006 cited his alleged disrespect for the monarchy among other reasons.

After a pro-Thaksin government was removed by the courts in December, a new Democrat-led administration vowed to crack down on criticism of the palace and blocked thousands of Web pages.

Thai prosecutors will decide on April 29 whether to pursue lese-majeste charges against Jakrapob Penkhair, a former minister in a pro-Thaksin government, for allegedly insulting the king in a speech in 2007.

Last month, a court issued an arrest warrant for a leading Thai political analyst who fled to London in February after being charged with insulting the king in a book published in 2007.

Giles Ungpakorn, who was a political analyst at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, has denied the charge and claimed he would not get a fair trial because the army and Democrat-led government were using the lese-majeste law to silence dissent.

The government has denied the charge and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has said he wants to strike a balance between upholding the law and freedom on expression.