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Elderly Thai man jailed for 'royal insult' graffiti

20 March 2015, 13:36

Bangkok - An elderly Thai man was jailed by a military court Friday for scrawling graffiti in a shopping mall toilet critical of the country's junta leaders and its revered king.

Thailand's monarch Bhumibol Adulyadej, 87, is protected by one of the world's toughest royal defamation rules under which anyone convicted of insulting the king, queen, heir or regent faces up to 15 years in prison on each count.

Ophas Chansuksei, a 67-year-old pin-badge vendor, received a year and a half sentence for writing anti-monarchy and anti-government messages in an eastern Bangkok mall last October.

The judge described the comments as "false" and said they "lowered the value of the king". His sentence was cut from three years because he pleaded guilty, the judge added.

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An AFP reporter inside the military court said Ophas, grey-haired and dressed in rose coloured prison clothes, remained impassive as the sentence was read out.

But his wife struggled to hold back her tears.

Speaking after sentencing, Ophas said he was relieved that the sentence had been reduced for his guilty plea.

"Soldiers told me when I was detained that if I didn't like someone I should keep it in my heart. I shouldn't have done it," he told AFP.

Basic freedoms

During the brief hearing the judge read out what the market vendor had written on the wall. The majority of his comments were critical of Thailand's junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who imposed martial law and then seized power in a coup last May.

But one sentence made reference to the king.

Reporting lese majeste cases is fraught with difficulty and media must heavily self-censor. Even repeating details of the charges could mean breaking the law.

Rights groups say basic freedoms have fallen off a cliff since the military took over last May following the ousting of former premier Yingluck Shinawatra's democratically elected government.

They argue that draconian lese majeste legislation is increasingly being used as a tool to stifle political opposition.

Also Read: Thailand bans surrogacy for foreigners in bid to end "rent-a-womb" tourism

Under martial law, political gatherings of more than five people are banned, criticism of the junta is outlawed and civilians can be tried in military courts for national security or lese majeste offences.

In a separate hearing Friday, two brothers and a close relative of former princess Srirasmi were also jailed on charges including lese majeste, extortion and false imprisonment.

They are the latest close relatives of Srirasmi -- who was until recently married to Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn -- to face legal proceedings after a corruption scandal involving her family erupted late last year.

The scandal centred around now jailed relative Pongpat Chayapun, the former head of Thailand's elite Central Investigation Bureau, who was accused of running a sprawling criminal network that included illegal gambling dens, oil smuggling and extortion rackets.

Most of those caught up in the scandal have been accused of using the Crown Prince's name as a shield to commit crimes.

Vajiralongkorn divorced Srirasmi and she renounced her royal title following the scandal, which has gripped a public unused to seeing palace intrigue play out in the open.

Earlier this month her elderly parents were also imprisoned on lese majeste charges. At least eight of Srirasmi's family have now been convicted and jailed for lese majeste.


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