Thai court gives record 43-year sentence for insulting king

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A woman identified only by her first name Anchan, right, talks to her friend as she arrives at the Bangkok Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. A court in Thailand on Tuesday sentenced the retired civil servant to a record 43.5 years in prison for insulting the monarchy by posting audio clips online of comments critical of the royal institution. (AP Photo)

BANGKOK – A court in Thailand on Tuesday sentenced a former civil servant to a record prison term of 43 years and six months for breaching the country's strict law on insulting or defaming the monarchy, lawyers said.

The Bangkok Criminal Court found the woman guilty on 29 counts of violating the country’s lese majeste law for posting audio clips to Facebook and YouTube with comments deemed critical of the monarchy, the group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said.

The court initially announced her sentence as 87 years, but reduced it by half because she pleaded guilty to the offenses, the group said.

The sentence, which comes amid an ongoing protest movement that has seen unprecedented public criticism of the monarchy, was swiftly condemned by rights groups.

“Today’s court verdict is shocking and sends a spine-chilling signal that not only criticisms of the monarchy won’t be tolerated, but they will also be severely punished,” said Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher for the group Human Rights Watch.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres believes “it’s very important that people be allowed to express their right to speak freely," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Tuesday.

Violating Thailand's lese majeste law — known widely as Article 112 — is punishable by three to 15 years’ imprisonment per count. The law is controversial not only because it has been used to punish things as simple as liking a post on Facebook but also because anyone — not just royals or authorities — can lodge a complaint that can tie up the person accused in legal proceedings for years.

During Thailand's last 15 years of political unrest, the law has frequently been used as a political weapon as well as in personal vendettas. Actual public criticism of the monarchy, however, had until recently been extremely rare.