A 27-year-old Thai factory worker reportedly faces 32 years in prison for clicking “like” and sharing a doctored image of the revered Thai king on Facebook.
The member of an opposition “red shirt” group on Facebook reportedly also confessed to sharing an infographic about alleged corruption in the construction of the Rajabhakti Park project, allegedly to “incite members of the group” to oppose the military.
The Bangkok Post notes that the controversial “billion-baht tourist attraction [in Hua Hin was] built by the army under construction contracts allegedly riddled with kickbacks and inflated costs.” The army has denied the allegations and insisted the reports were “entirely false”.
Local media report that the man was arrested at his home in Samut Prakan province near Bangkok and “charged with sedition, lese majeste and computer crimes.” Police has been quoted as saying:
On December 2, he clicked ‘Like’ link on a doctored photo of the King and shared it with 608 friends.
The man has allegedly confessed to the charges and now faces “up to 32 years in jail.”
Under Thailand’s strict lese majeste law, which is the harshest in the world, anyone convicted of insulting the monarchy faces up to 15 years in jail on each count. A sedition charge carries a maximum penalty of seven years in Thailand, and violators of the Computer Crimes Act face a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
But if you think 32 years in jail for some political posts on a social media site were harsh – no, it wouldn’t even set a new record.
In August this year, a 48-year-old Thai man, reportedly also a “red shirt” supporter, was found guilty of posting messages and images defaming the monarchy in six posts on Facebook. He was tried in camera and sentenced to 10 years on each count, with the 60-year prison term only halved to 30 years after he pleaded guilty.
In a separate lese majeste case, a 29-year-old mother of two was sentenced to 56 years in jail for a total of seven Facebook posts that allegedly insulted the royals. Her sentence was also halved only after a guilty plea.
In a speech at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand last month, the U.S. ambassador to Bangkok, Glyn T. Davies, criticized the “unprecedented” long prison sentences handed down to lese majeste offenders. The controversial speech not only sparked a protest by some 200 ultra-nationalists outside the US embassy but has also resulted in a police inquiry into whether the speech itself violated the lese majeste law.
Although Davies is protected by diplomatic immunity and the inquiry is likely to be no more than a formality, Amnesty International commented on Wednesday that the preliminary investigation into the US ambassador’s speech was an example of the “the absurd extremes of Thailand’s restrictions on freedom of expression.”
UPDATE – Prachatai reports now that “hundreds more” may soon be charged with insulting the monarchy for clicking “like” on Facebook:
After the Thai junta’s legal office filed lèse majesté and sedition charges against a factory worker for pressing ‘like’ on Facebook, the police have announced that hundreds more will be charged with lèse majesté for similar actions.
According to Matichon Online, police investigators are now gathering information and evidence to press charges against 20 administrators of an anti-establishment red-shirt Facebook group …
Hundreds of members of the Facebook page will also be charged with Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lèse majesté law, for pressing ‘like’ on pictures and content allegedly defaming the Thai monarchy …
By Sunday, at least one other suspect, a 25-year-old Thai university student, was detained and charged with lese majeste in the same case.
UPDATE II – More (bizarre) details have now emerged regarding the lese majeste charges against the 27-year-old factory worker. His crimes against the “revered institution” (as Thai royalists often refer to the monarchy) were reportedly not restricted to clicking “like” on a doctored image of the king.
In a separate case, Pravit Rojanaphruk reports at Khaosod English, the suspect has allegedly also been accused of defaming the monarchy by spreading “sarcastic” content on Facebook related to one of the king’s pet dogs.
Pravit’s article has since been removed by the editors of Khaosod English who noted they “feared that content in the article might lead to possible legal action.”
UPDATE III – It looks like not just discussion of monarchy-related issues themselves but also the lese majeste law is increasingly outlawed.
In a renewed case of self-censorship, the Thai publisher of the International New York Times has again refused to run an article dealing with the lese majeste law, this time related to the arrest of the 27-year-old factory worker. It was the third case in less than a month that the international edition of the New York Times was (self) censored in Thailand because an article was deemed too “insensitive”.
“The article in this space was removed by our printer in Thailand,” read a statement where the article was due to appear in the print edition. “The International New York Times and its editorial staff had no role in its removal.”
In related news, Thaivisa.com have also updated their notice to members posting in the news forum:
In the past, discussion of the lese majeste law has been allowed, but due to increased scrutiny by the government this will no longer be permitted on Thaivisa.
For obvious reasons, comments are also disabled on this frequently redacted post.