BANGKOK, Dec 12 – A Thai man was jailed Thursday for six years and eight months for crimes including attempting to defame the monarchy — an apparently unprecedented charge that deepened concerns about freedom of expression.
A Criminal Court in Bangkok convicted 51-year-old shopkeeper Kittithon Yamsamai under the country’s controversial lese majeste legislation and Computer Crimes Act.
He was accused of writing inappropriate comments on the king’s picture and posting it on the Internet as well as storing it on CDs.
The charges included “attempting to commit lese majeste”, his lawyer Anon Numpa told AFP, explaining that police seized files in his computer and accused him of preparing to commit a crime.
While convictions under the controversial legislation are relatively common, Anon said it was the first time he was aware of someone being found guilty for attempting to insult the monarchy.
Kittithon was given 20 months for that charge as part of a reduced sentence that took into account his confession.
“Government officials — including prosecutors and investigators — are getting tougher with these kind of allegations,” Anon said.
The 86-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej is revered as a demi-god by many Thais and protected by harsh royal defamation laws.
Under the lese majeste rules, anyone convicted of insulting the Thai king, queen, heir or regent faces up to 15 years in prison on each count.
Critics say the legislation has been politicised, noting that many of those charged are linked to the “Red Shirt” political movement, which is broadly loyal to fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Kittithon described by his lawyer as a “Red Shirt sympathiser”. He said his client did not plan to appeal but would seek a royal pardon.
Two months of mass street protests by the Red Shirts against the previous government in early 2010 triggered the kingdom’s worst civil violence in decades with more than 90 people killed, mostly in a bloody military crackdown.
Former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was indicted Thursday for murder in relation to the deaths.
Thailand has been racked by political turmoil since royalist generals overthrew Thaksin seven years ago.
His sister, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, took office in mid-2011 after a landslide election victory but she has said she will not seek to change the royal defamation law.
Yingluck has also faced weeks of mass opposition protests and this week called an early election for February to try to calm tensions.