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Record 87-year lèse majesté sentence condemned by global rights bodies

Jan 19. 2021
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By The Nation

Amnesty International on Tuesday condemned the record prison sentence handed to Anchan Preelert for lèse majesté and computer crimes as “yet another serious assault on Thailand’s vanishing space for freedom of expression”. Meanwhile Human Rights Watch called the verdict “shocking” and “a spine-chilling signal that not only criticisms of the monarchy won’t be tolerated but that they will also be severely punished”. 

Anchan was sentenced to 87 years in prison by the Bangkok criminal court on Tuesday, though her prison term was halved because she agreed to plead guilty. The former civil servant’s crime was to share audio clips deemed insulting to the monarchy. 

“The fast-rising number of individuals facing charges and being detained under the lèse majesté law demonstrates the Thai authorities’ relentless drive to silence dissent,” said Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific regional director, Yamini Mishra.

“Today’s extreme sentence is a case in point, and shows why this law is inconsistent with international human rights law.

“Defamation should never incur a criminal conviction in the first place, let alone an extremely long jail sentence like today’s,” Yamini added.

Amnesty also decried the “appalling treatment” of Anchan since her arrest in 2015, including pre-trial detention for years.

“The Thai authorities must halt their crackdown on peaceful dissent. The government must repeal or significantly revise legislation which gags freedom of expression both on- and offline, such as the lèse majesté offence and the Computer Crime Act used in today’s verdict,” said Yamini. 

Anchan faced 29 counts of lèse majesté under Article 112 of the Criminal Code and provisions of the Computer Crime Act. She was arrested in January 2015 and detained for nearly four years until November 2018, then released on bail. 

Anchan was initially detained incommunicado in a military camp for five days before her transfer to a detention facility and repeatedly denied bail. 

The court convicted her for allegedly sharing and uploading clips on social media of an online talk show alleged to have made defamatory comments about the monarchy. 

Anchan pleaded guilty to the charges and received a consecutive three-year sentence for each of the 29 lèse majesté offences, or 87 years – the harshest conviction under Article 112 to date. 

More than 220 people, including children, have faced criminal charges for their alleged involvement in peaceful protests throughout 2020. Of those, dozens have been charged with sedition and lèse majesté. 

Amnesty noted that Thailand is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which protects the right to freedom of expression. The UN Human Rights Committee, the treaty body responsible for interpreting the ICCPR, has stated that “imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty” for defamation-related offences such as lèse majesté.

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