A Thai woman has been sentenced to more than 43 years in prison for criticizing Thailand’s monarchy, the longest sentence ever imposed for violating the country’s lèse-majesté law. According to Amnesty International, the 65-year old woman, Anchan Preelert, pled guilty to 29 separate counts of “insulting the monarchy,” after sharing audio clips to social media sites criticizing the royal family in 2014 and 2015. Her sentencing comes amid ongoing youth-led protests which have openly criticized the monarchy, a move that has led to the arrests of dozens of young activists for their alleged involvement in the protests.
Ms. Preelert, a former civil servant, had originally been sentenced to a staggering 87 years in prison but had her sentence reduced by half following her guilty plea. According to the New York Times, she was arrested in January of 2015 for allegedly being part of an anti-monarchy network after sharing the audio online. She was detained until November of 2018, almost four years after her arrest, when she was eventually released on bail. “I thought it was nothing. There were so many people who shared this content and listened to it,” she told local media after arriving at court.
The law has been condemned by multiple rights group over the years, with many describing it as excessively severe; in December 2020, the UN stated: “We call on the Government of Thailand to stop the repeated use of such serious criminal charges against individuals for exercising their rights to freedom and peaceful expression and peaceful assembly.” Speaking on Ms. Preelert’s case, Amnesty International strongly condemned the sentence, with Asia-Pacific Regional Director Yamini Mishra expressing, “this shocking case is yet another serious assault on Thailand’s vanishing space for freedom of expression.” “The way authorities have evidently sought to maximize the punishments by multiplying criminal charges sends a clear message of deterrence to Thailand’s 50 million internet users,” he continued.
According to Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code, the lèse-majesté law makes it a crime to criticize or defame top royals, and each charge is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Following a three-year period in which the law was suspended at the request of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, the number of cases related to lèse-majesté increased dramatically over the past few months after a wave of anti-government protests targeting the monarchy began late last year. Protesters have been calling for democratic and monarchy reforms, asserting that the royal family “holds too much power in what is supposed to be a democratic constitutional monarchy,” as stated by CBS news.
This kind of open criticism has never occurred before, and Ms. Preelet’s ridiculously harsh sentence is clearly meant to send a message to the protesters. It is the first time that the monarchy’s powers are publicly called into question, and the royals’ reaction is a clear indication of the ways in which they plan to treat those who criticize them. Nobody should ever be criminalized for criticizing or defamation, never mind jailed, so make no mistake — this law is a clear violation of one’s freedom of expression. Unfortunately, it will continue to be used for the sole reason of silencing those who believe in change and reform, and we are likely to see an increase in verdicts similar to Ms. Preelet’s until the protests are over.
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