Thailand: editor sentenced for defaming king

A military court in Thailand on Nov. 24 sentenced web editor Nut Rungwong to four-and-a-half years in jail for publishing an article five years ago that the court ruled defamed the nation's king. Thailand's lese-majeste law, which punishes people who defame, insult or threaten the monarchy, is one of the harshest in the world with jail terms of up to 15 years. Rungwong's sentence was cut in half because he pleaded guilty to the charge. Rungwong edited the Thai E-News website which is now blocked by censors. He was charged for publishing an article in 2009 written by Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a former university political scientist and radical Thai intellectual who fled to Britain in 2009.

There has been a recent rise in lese-majeste charges in Thailand. Earlier this month a university student was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for posting a message on Facebook that the court said insulted the nation's king. Last month a prominent Thai scholar was charged with insulting the monarchy for comments and criticism of King Naresuan that he made during a recent academic seminar. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in August expressed concern that the prosecution and sentencing of lese-majeste cases by Thailand's ruling military junta threatens citizens' rights of free expression. According to the UN, 13 new cases have been opened under lese-majeste laws, which prohibit speech that is defamatory to the monarchy, since the May 22 coup that ousted the previous government. Defendants in these cases have included university students participating in plays as well as a man sentenced to 15 years in prison for messages he posted on Facebook.

From Jurist, Nov. 24. Used with permission.

  1. Thai academic cleared of lèse-majesté

    A Thai military court on Jan. 17 dropped royal insult charges against an 84-year old historian who questioned whether a Thai king had actually defeated a Burmese adversary in combat on elephant-back more than 500 years ago. Under Thailand's strict lèse-majesté law, Sualak Sivaraksa could have been imprisoned for up to 15 years.

    The charge was related to a university seminar in which he questioned whether King Naraesuan had really won the 1593 battle by defeating a Burmese prince in solo combat mounted on a war elephant. The story is one of Thailand's most celebrated historical feats and the date of the combat is marked each year with a military parade on Jan. 18. Thailand's junta has made increasing use of the lèse-majesté law since seizing power in 2014 and the dismissal of the case before prosecution was a rarity. (SCMP)