A prominent Thai human rights lawyer faces a prison term of up to 150 years if convicted on 10 counts of royal defamation under Thailand’s harsh royal insult law, the legal watchdog Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said on Thursday. Prawet Prapanukul, 57, provided legal assistance to members of a political opposition group, the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, and served as legal counsel in a high-profile royal insult case. He was detained in a raid on his home by police and troops on the weekend.
Mr Prawet appeared in a Bangkok court on Wednesday and was charged with 10 counts of royal insult and three counts of breaking Section 116 of Thailand’s criminal code, the equivalent of sedition.
“Prawet faces 10 counts of breaking Article 112, so that works out to up to 150 years in prison if he is found guilty,” Anon Nampha of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights told Reuters.
“He also faces three separate charges of breaking Article 116 which carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison for each offence.”
It was not immediately clear what Mr Prawet might have written or said that led to his arrest and charges. Media inside Thailand must heavily self-censor when reporting on the monarchy, including repeating any content deemed defamatory. A spokesman for the military government said he was unable to comment on the case.
Since then, the junta has detained hundreds of politicians, activists, journalists and others accused of being involved in anti-junta protests and activities. Some have been held incommunicado in unofficial places of detention, such as military camps. It has also taken a hardline stance against alleged transgressors of Article 112 of the criminal code which makes anyone found guilty of insulting the monarchy liable to imprisonment for up to 15 years.
Ten royal defamation charges is the most anyone has ever faced in Thailand since the law become increasingly used, AFP reported.
The lawyers’ group said Mr Prawet was charged along with five others, who also faced charges under the royal insult law. He is in pre-trial detention at a Bangkok remand prison after being held incommunicado at the 11th Army Circle base in Bangkok, a facility the military uses as a temporary prison.
What are Thailand’s lèse majesté laws?
As the royal family is highly revered in Thai society, the laws are in place to protect the most senior members of the country’s monarchy from insults or threats. In a law that goes back to 1908, the country’s criminal code states anyone who “defames, insults or threatens” the king, the queen, the heir-apparent or the regent will be punished with up to 15 years in prison. Anyone can report an allegation of lèse majesté, and the accusation can be made against anyone – including the monarch’s family. So serious is the crime in Thailand, that the police are formally obliged to investigate all complaints, yet details of the charges are rarely publicised to avoid repeating the offensive remarks. Those who fall foul of the law range from unsuspecting tourists to prominent politicians as well as extended members of the royal family. Human rights activists claim the laws have been used as a political weapon to stifle free speech.