Thai student jailed for 30 months for defaming monarchy

Thai student jailed for 30 months for defaming monarchy

BANGKOK - A 24-year-old student was jailed Tuesday for two-and-a-half years for defaming Thailand's monarchy, a court official said, the latest in a growing number of convictions under the strict law since a May coup.

Thailand's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 86, is protected by tough royal defamation rules under which anyone convicted of insulting the king, queen, heir or regent faces up to 15 years in prison on each count.

The student, called Akradej, had been in custody since his arrest in June after pleading guilty to posting a Facebook message under a pseudonym insulting the monarchy.

He was convicted of one count of breaching Section 112 of the criminal code - the feared royal defamation law - as well as another charge under the Computer Crimes Act.

"The judge initially handed him a five-year jail term but halved it because of his confession," a criminal court official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The seriousness of the crime meant he was jailed immediately, the official added.

Rights groups have noted a spike in lese majeste convictions and prosecutions since the army toppled the elected government in May.

Critics of the law says it stifles free speech and is increasingly being used by the army as a political weapon against anti-coup elements - including supporters of the former government.

Since grabbing power junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha has repeatedly vowed to crack down on anyone who insults the monarchy, which attracts deep loyalty among the military and royalist Bangkok-based establishment.

In September rights group Amnesty International said there had been an "unprecedented" number of people charged with insulting the monarchy since the coup, echoing concerns raised by the United Nations.

Last week student Patiwat Saraiyaem, 23, and an activist Porntip Mankong, 25, were both denied bail after being charged with lese majeste linked to an October 2013 performance at a commemoration of a pro-democracy students' uprising.

A few weeks earlier a 67-year-old man was charged with insulting the monarchy by scribbling anti-royal comments on the wall of a public toilet.

In August a 28-year-old musician was sentenced to 15 years in jail for writing insulting Facebook posts about the monarchy between 2010 and 2011.

In another recent case a taxi driver was jailed for two and a half years after his passenger - a university lecturer who recorded their conversation on a mobile phone - accused him of expressing anti-royal views, Amnesty said.

The junta says it was prodded into a coup by months of violence linked to protests against the government elected under Yingluck Shinawatra.

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