3 freed after ‘insulting’ Thai royals

King Bhumibol Adulyadej is not seen in public any more. Source: Wikimedia

The Thai authorities have freed a political activist after eight years in jail for insulting the royal family under its defamation laws.

Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul, also known as “Da Torpedo”, was freed as part of an annual series of royal pardons, announced Charnchao Chaiyanukij, permanent Justice Ministry secretary.

She was sentenced to 15 years in jail, he said.

Daranee, who supported former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted from power in a 2006 coup, was convicted for making defamatory comments against the monarchy at a political rally in 2008.

A criminal court found her guilty on three counts under the authoritarian lèse–majesté laws that are supposedly used to protect the royals from criticism but are in reality abused to stifle debate and silence government critics.

The Thai media self-censors when reporting on royal defamation cases but it emerged that three lèse–majesté convicts were included in a royal pardon that saw more than 100 female prisoners freed from a Bangkok jail.

“Three women prisoners who were jailed for lèse–majesté were freed today,” Weeranan Huadsri from the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights told AFP.

Also released was activist Porntip Mankong, 29, who was arrested in 2014 for her role in a satirical play, the lawyer said. She had around two months left on her 2½-year sentence.

Patiwat Saraiyaem, a male university student who was also part of the production of “The Wolf Bride”, was freed in recent weeks after receiving a royal pardon on Queen Sirikit’s birthday.

The third lèse–majesté prisoner set free was Thitinan Kaewjantranont, an older woman imprisoned for insulting a portrait of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The court that jailed her last year noted that she suffered from mental health problems but said her behaviour was “so evil” that she must be jailed.

Under Article 112 of the Thai criminal code, anyone who “defames, insults or threatens the king, queen, heir-apparent or regent” can be jailed for up to 15 years. The laws have even been used to imprison a builder who allegedly insulted the king’s dead dog on social media.

Since seizing power in May 2014, the military has taken a zero-tolerance approach to royal insults and handed out a record number of sentences.

The 88-year-old king is in poor health with the authorities releasing only very detailed medical statements about his condition without mentioning whether he has cognitive functions.

The junta appears determined to remain in power until the succession to the king’s less popular eldest son, Maha Vajiralongkorn, 64, has been completed.