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Thai activist gets prison for posting BBC story about king

August 15, 2017

BANGKOK (AP) — A court in Thailand on Tuesday sentenced a student activist to 2 1/2 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to the charge of lese majeste — or insulting the monarchy — for sharing a BBC article about the country’s new king on Facebook.

Jatupat “Pai Dao Din” Boonpattararaksa was initially sentenced to five years by the court in the northeastern province of Khon Kaen, but had his sentence halved because he pleaded guilty, a standard practice in Thai courts, said Poonsuk Poonsukcharoen of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

Jatupat was arrested in December for sharing a profile of King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun that was posted online by the BBC’s Thai-language service. It included mentions of the king’s personal life when he was crown prince, including details of three marriages that ended in divorce and other material Thai news media can publish only at their own peril.

The verdict was issued after a closed trial that barred reporters and the defendant’s relatives from the courtroom.

Poonsuk said Jatupat’s lawyers advised him to plead guilty to the charge because his requests for bail had repeatedly been denied. Jatupat’s father, Viboon Boonpattaraksa, said on the first day of the trial that Jatupat has been denied bail 12 times. With no guarantee that an appeal would be successful, he could gain his freedom sooner by serving time and then getting parole or a pardon.

“If we could have posted bail our legal fight would not be going in this direction,” Poonsuk said, adding that defendants in lese majeste cases are rarely granted bail after being been arrested.

Jatupat is a prominent member of Dao Din, a small student organization that has protested against Thailand’s military government. He was presented the Gwangju Prize, a human rights award from The May 18 Memorial Foundation in South Korea, in May while he was in detention.

He was put under close watch by Thai authorities after November 2014, when he and several other Dao Din members held up a three-fingered salute, a resistance gesture borrowed from “The Hunger Games” movies, during a speech by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, chief of the military junta that had taken power in a coup six months earlier. He was also among about a dozen students arrested in June 2015 for participating in anti-government protests.

His arrest was the first under Thailand’s strict lese majeste law since King Maha Vajiralongkorn succeeded his late father last November, sparking criticism from international rights groups that urged authorities to drop the charge and release Jatupat.

Critics of the lese majeste law, which carries a punishment of three to 15 years’ imprisonment, say it is used to silence political dissidents. The military regime that took power in 2014 has especially cracked down on commentary on the internet. According to iLaw, a group that tracks royal defamation cases, 82 people have been charged under the lese majeste law since the coup three years ago.

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