Prison for lèse-majesté for a sticker on the portrait of Thailand’s King

A court in Thailand sentenced a political activist to two years in prison for lèse-majesté. Many others have been charged with defaming monarchy during recent protests calling for political change.

Thailand King Maha Vajiralongkorn and his wife
Thailand King Maha Vajiralongkorn and his wife during a Buddhist ceremony on Makha Bucha Day in February 2022

A Thai political activist has been convicted of lèse-majesté and sentenced to two years in prison.

A court in Thailand ruled on March 4 that Narin Kulpongsathron defamed the monarchy.

He was accused of putting a sticker on a portrait of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, also known as Rama X, in front of the Supreme Court on September 19, 2020. The day marks the anniversary of a military coup that ousted the elected government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The sticker had no obvious political significance, it parodied the logo of the Yakult brand, a yogurt drink. He has also been accused of hosting a Facebook page that included political content.

It is one of many lèse-majesté cases filed against protesters since the government revived prosecutions under the law in November 2020. It has charged at least 173 people disrespecting the King according to Krisadang Nutcharas from the legal aid group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

Many Thais revere the monarchy. Foreign tourists may be warned against defacing or stepping on banknotes with images of the king. The military considers its defense a key priority, even more since its coup that overthrew a democratic regime in 2014. Thailand has one of the most strict lèse-majesté laws in the world. Even criticism of the lèse-majesté law is potentially illegal.

Anyone who insults or defames key members of the royal family can be punished by up to 15 years in prison for each count in Thailand.

In the first, a court in Bangkok sentenced a 48-year-old tour guide operator, Pongsak Sriboonpheng, to 60 years in prison, 10 years for each of the Facebook posts critical of the monarchy that he was charged with writing. Because he pleaded guilty the sentence was halved to 30 years.

In 2017, a man was given a 35-year sentence for Facebook posts considered defamatory. In 2015, another was convicted to 30 years and a 29-year-old single mother to 28 years.

The United Nations called on Thailand to amend its law on lèse-majesté in 2017.

Repression against lèse-majesté further increased to curb the 2020 protest movement that called for more democracy, the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha who took power in 2014 by staging a coup as army commander, and a reform of the monarchy to make it more accountable.

Authorities repeatedly arrested leaders of the movement. Several of them face multiple counts of lese majeste.

The court granted Narin Kulpongsathron’s release on 100,000 baht ($3,055) bail to allow him to appeal, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

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Thai King signing a portrait of himself and the Queen
Thai King in the crowd signing a portrait of himself and Queen Suthida in November 2020

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