Facebook pair jailed for insults to royals

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Thailand’s military courts have issued long sentences for two people convicted of insulting the monarchy on Facebook.

The watchdog group iLaw said Bangkok Military Court sentenced Pongsak Sriboonpeng, from the capital, to 60 years, 10 for each message, but halved his sentence because he admitted wrongdoing.

A mother of two young girls in the northern province of Chiang Mai was also found guilty of posting offensive comments, but had her cumulative sentence halved to 28 years after pleading guilty.

Thailand’s lèse-majesté law mandates prison terms of three to 15 years for defaming, insulting or threatening the monarchy.

Chief judge Major General Panomthep Wesaratchanun said Sriboonpeng’s trial was conducted behind closed doors because “what he wrote was beyond rude. Even the prosecutor did not want to read them out loud”.

Critics say the law is often used as a tool to smother social and political dissent, and note that King Bhumibol Adulyadej himself proclaimed in a public speech that he is not above criticism.

Thais hold great affection for King Bhumibol, who is revered as a moral authority who stepped in repeatedly over the years to unify the country despite his lack of a formal political role.

The 87-year-old king’s fading from public life due to ill health, and the palace’s perceived role in bitter political battles that started in 2006, have tarnished the institution in recent years.

The military junta that took power after last year’s coup declared protection of the monarchy a priority.

An increase in lèse-majesté cases under recent civilian governments accelerated following the coup.