A Thai military court found Theinsutham Suthijittaseranee, 58, guilty on five counts of posting messages deemed defamatory of Thailand’s royal family. The man was convicted under the Lèse majesté law, which is the crime of violating majesty, an offense against the dignity of a reigning Thai sovereign or against the state.
Following his arrest the businessman was detained without charge and interrogated by military officers until he confessed to the alleged charges. During the questioning he was not allowed to see a lawyer or members of his family.
Rupert Abbott, Deputy Director for the Asia Pacific Programme at Amnesty International said: “The sentence against Theinsutham Suthijittaseranee is one of the harshest we have seen in a long time, which sends worrying signs that the Thai authorities are tightening the vice on anyone they do not agree with.
“It is appalling that in the 21st century people are being imprisoned for decades for criticising the monarchy. Peacefully expressing an opinion is not a crime. Theinsutham must be released immediately and the lèse majesté law should be scrapped.”
While prosecutors did attempt to pursue 50 years imprisonment, this was halved due to Theinsutham’s guilty plea. He does not have the right to appeal.
Thai authorities have been on a major crackdown on websites which may contain content that defames the royal family. In 2007 the government blocked Thai access to YouTube after a video clip was posted which authorities claimed was a threat to national security and an attempt to undermine the monarchy.
The Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT) announced in 2008 it would spend 100–500 million baht to build a firewall to block websites which could be deemed offensive to the royals. As of 2011, 70,000 pages had been blocked over a four-year period.
There has been an estimated 1,500 percent increase in lèse majesté cases since 2005 with over 400 cases reaching trial between January 2006 and May 2011. Foreigners can also face conviction under the law but jail terms for Thai citizens are usually harsher.
Lèse majesté has been part of Thai law since 1908 and it has been in all seventeen version of the country’s constitution since it was adopted in 1932. The constitution contains the clause, “The King shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated. No person shall expose the King to any sort of accusation or action.”
Thai Criminal Code elaborates in section 112: “Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” However, there is no explicit definition of what constitutes defamation.