BANGKOK, May 3 – A Thai human rights lawyer could be sentenced to a maximum 150 years in prison after he was charged with a record ten counts of royal defamation, a rights group said Wednesday. Prawet Prapanukul, a well-known critic of the law under which he is now being prosecuted, was detained by soldiers and police at his Bangkok home on Saturday.
Activists called for the release of the 57-year-old as authorities refused to disclose his whereabouts or the charges he faced. But on Wednesday afternoon he appeared in court charged with ten counts of royal defamation and a separate charge of sedition. “He was charged with ten counts of 112 and for 116,” Anon Numpa, from Thai Lawyers from Human Rights, told AFP.
Section 112 of the criminal code outlaws any criticism of the king, queen, heir or regent. Each count carries up to fifteen years in jail and it has been used with particular ferocity in recent years. Section 116 outlaws sedition, a law that has also become increasingly wielded since an ultra-royalist military junta seized power in 2014.
Ten royal defamation charges is the most anyone has ever faced in Thailand since the law become increasingly used. The UN’s rights body, which began monitoring cases in 2006, says the previous record was six charges for six separate Facebook posts written by a woman in 2015.
At the end of her trial she received a 60-year jail sentence that was halved after she pleaded guilty. Rights groups expressed shock at the latest charge. “Imprisonment is never a proportionate penalty for the exercise of free expression, let alone the unthinkable possibility of 150 years,” Kingsley Abbott, from the International Commission of Jurists which has monitored lese majeste trials, told AFP.
He added the UN had just last month criticised use of the law.It is not known what Prawet said or wrote. However media inside Thailand must heavily self-censor when reporting on the monarchy, including repeating any content deemed defamatory. Trials are often held behind closed doors and acquittals are rare.
Prosecutions have skyrocketed since the junta’s takeover. Critics say the legislation has been used to stifle political opponents rather than protect the monarchy. Last October Thailand’s widely revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej passed away after seven decades on the throne. His crown has passed to his son Maha Vajiralongkorn, who has yet to attain his father’s widespread popularity. — AFP