Thai Woman Sentenced to 43 Years for Defaming Monarchy

Thailand's royal insult laws are some of the toughest in the world.
Thailand, king
Royalists hold up a portrait of the late Thai king Bhumibol Adulyadej as they wait for the start of a ceremony to commemorate his birthday at Sanam Luang in Bangkok on Dec. 5, 2020. PHOTO: Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP

A Thai woman was sentenced to 43 years and six months in prison on Tuesday for insulting the monarchy, a record verdict at a time when royal defamation cases are soaring in the kingdom.

Former civil servant Anchan Preelert, 63, was arrested in 2015 and accused of posting a series of audio clips deemed defamatory to Thailand’s former King Bhumipol Adulyadej, who died in 2016.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, which represented Anchan and called the verdict “record-breaking,” said the clips were recordings of speeches. Anchan’s initial sentence was 87 years but was halved after she pleaded guilty.

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Thailand’s lese-majeste laws are some of the toughest in the world, and each count carries a maximum 15 years in jail.

A youth-led pro-democracy movement challenged the law during mass protests in Thailand last year that focused on the wealth and political influence of Bhumibol’s son and successor King Maha Vajiralongkorn. While authorities initially avoided using Article 112, as the royal defamation law is known, that has changed in recent weeks.

Though Anchan’s case dates back six years, rights groups see the harsh sentence as yet another attempt to send a message to would-be critics of the monarch, who is seen as beyond criticism and semi-divine.

Tuesday’s verdict sends a “spine chilling signal” that criticism of the palace will not be tolerated and will also be severely punished, said Sunai Phasuk, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“Thailand’s political tensions will now go from bad to worse,” he told VICE World News.

Since late last year, dozens of activists have been accused of violating Article 112, including teenagers. Protesters have called for the powers of the king to be curbed and for more transparency around his immense riches.

A Thai activist who monitored Tuesday’s hearing in Bangkok said most people were shocked when they heard the outcome.

“But I have spoken with Anchan before the verdict and she’s still strong,” said the activist, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity over the issue. 

The palace does not usually comment on the cases.