Two Thai lese majeste convicts given royal pardon

BANGKOK - Two men were released from jail Friday after receiving pardons for insulting Thailand's revered monarchy, according to the kingdom's prison authorities.

Warawut Thanangkorn, 54, an activist for the "Red Shirt" movement loyal to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was freed from a three-year term early after a 2010 conviction for committing lese majeste.

He was found guilty of criticising Thailand's queen in a speech to Red Shirts.

A shoe repair man, Suriyan Kokpoei, 30, was also freed following his 2010 jailing for a bomb hoax to a Bangkok hospital caring for the nation's ailing King.

"They were released this morning," Sorasit Chongjaroen, superintendent of Bangkok Remand Prison said.

They were among 300 inmates pardoned across Thailand on Friday, according to Sophon Thitithammapruek, deputy director general of Corrections Department, adding the pair were freed because their "sentences are light."

The royal family is an extremely sensitive subject in politically turbulent Thailand. The king, who is revered as a demi-god by many Thais, has been hospitalised since September 2009.

Under the legislation, anyone convicted of insulting the Thai king, queen, heir or regent faces up to a maximum 15 years in prison on each count.

Observers say lese majeste prosecutions have surged following a coup by royalist generals that removed fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006. Thaksin's sister Yingluck now leads the government, but the trend is seen as likely to continue.

There are now seven lese majeste prisoners in the kingdom, but the Office of the Human Rights Commission of Thailand says an unknown number of the 241 cases brought between 2007-2012 are still under investigation.

Rights group Amnesty International views people incarcerated solely under the lese majeste law as prisoners of conscience.

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