Accused of criticizing the royal family, authorities sentenced a Thai woman to 43 years in prison, the harshest sentence ever for insulting the monarchy in this country. This sentence could be seen as a "warning shot" to protesters demanding reform in the kingdom, according to analysts.
The former public servant, known only as Anchan, posted audio clips from a podcast on social media. The 63-year-old said she shared the audio files but never commented on the content.
Thailand's lèse-majesté law forbids any insult to the monarchy and is among the world's strictest restrictions on free speech. Thailand resuscitated the controversial law last year after a three-year break; in an effort to curb demonstrators from demanding changes to the monarchy with anti-government protests.
According to her lawyer, Reuters news agency reported that Anchan pled guilty to 29 distinct violations related to sharing and posting clips on YouTube and Facebook between 2014 and 2015.
Originally sentenced to 87 years, the court reduced Anchan's sentence to half that time since she pled guilty to the charges.
Anchan is among 14 people being prosecuted for lèse-majesté soon after 2014, when a military junta seized power, vowing to stamp out criticism of the monarchy. Authorities accused the group of uploading podcasts, common in dissident circles, which questioned official accounts of the monarchy. The creator of the podcasts was already released from jail after serving only two years.
The sentence, which comes amid an ongoing protest movement that has seen unprecedented public criticism of the monarchy, was swiftly condemned by rights groups.
While student-led protests raged last year, unprecedented open questioning regarding the wealth, political role, and King Vajiralongkorn's personal life was seen in Thailand.
Until the end of 2020, the lèse-majesté law, condemned by UN human rights officials as excessively severe, was suspended for three years at the king's request. Over the past few weeks since, dozens of mostly young activists were charged under lèse-majesté. Some activists were charged multiple times.
In view of Thailand's long history of political unrest and protest, a new wave began in February 2020 after a court-ordered a nascent pro-democracy opposition party to disband.
While protesters expressed a variety of demands relating to the government, progress finally kicked off when protesters began questioning the monarchy's powers.
Protests, including demands to limit the monarchy's powers, challenged the king's decision to declare crown wealth as his personal property, which made him the wealthiest person in Thailand. A national trust held those funds for the benefit of the people —until now.
Questions arose concerning King Vajiralongkorn taking personal command of military units based in Bangkok, an unprecedented act in modern Thailand, concentrated military power within royal hands. The king's move sent shockwaves throughout a country where people are indoctrinated from birth to revere and love the monarchy while fearing the consequences of denouncing it.
Defining what constitutes an insult to Thailand's monarchy remains unclear. According to human rights groups, the lèse-majesté law became a mere political tool to squash free speech and counter demands to reform.