Thailand lese-majeste law: Man jailed for six years for Facebook post

The number of convictions under the defamation law has gone up since the military took power in 2014,

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Thailand defamation law lese majeste
Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, editor of "Voice of the Oppressed", a magazine devoted to self-exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, gestures as he walks near a prison cell at the criminal court in Bangkok January 23, 2013. Somyot was jailed for 10 years for insulting the royal family under the country's draconian lese-majeste law. Reuters

A Thailand criminal court sentenced a man to six years in prison for posting Facebook comments deemed offensive under the country's harsh lese-majeste laws.

The sentence was handed to 46-year-old Piya Julkittiphan on Wednesday after the court concluded that two pictures he posted along with messages on Facebook could potentially instigate the public to be "disrespectful or unfaithful" to the monarchy.

Under Thailand's draconian interpretation of the defamation law, any act deemed to defame, insult or threaten the king, queen, heir to the throne or regent is punishable with lengthy prison sentences.

The number of convictions under the defamation law has gone up since the military took power in 2014, deposing prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Royalists and the Thai elite backing the junta have often found the lese-majeste law as a means to suppress political freedom in the country.

Julkittipan was arrested in December 2014.

Section 112 of lese-majeste law stipulates a 15-year jail term for the offenders.

The lese-majeste law is traced back to the early 19th Century, when those found to have insulted the monarch were beheaded or had their ears, hands and feet cut off.

Apart from comments or action deemed to insult the monarchy there are other situations that invoke the lese-majeste law. For example, referring to anything from Thailand's history that could be construed as damaging the monarchy's image is punishable.

In 2007 a local politician was given two years for talking on a radio programme about slavery during the 19th century. Singing satirical songs about the royal family is also punishable.

In December last year, US ambassador to Thailand Glyn Davies was investigated under the law after he made a speech at Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand. He had said: "We are also concerned by the lengthy and unprecedented prison sentences handed down by Thai military courts against civilians for violating the lese-majeste law."

This article was first published on January 22, 2016