Thai woman receives 43-year sentence for sharing audio clips ‘defaming’ the monarchy

Anchan (right side). Source: iLaw / Prachatai

A 63-year-old Thai woman was sentenced to 87 years in prison for sharing audio clips deemed insulting to the monarchy. The prison term was reduced to 43 years and six months after the defendant pleaded guilty to the charge of violating section 112 of the Criminal Code or Lèse-majesté (anti-Royal Insult law). Despite the penalty adjustment, it is still the longest prison sentence handed out to a person convicted of disrespecting the monarchy.

Anchan (pseudonym), a food seller and former civil servant, was first arrested in 2015 for sharing 29 audio clips containing content that allegedly defame the monarchy.

The videos were sourced from an underground radio channel hosted by an activist named Hatsadin Uraipraiwan, aka Banpot. Anchan did not create the clips but merely shared them on social media between November 2014 to January 2015. She was detained for more than three years before she was allowed to post bail.

She was hoping for leniency from the court after pleading guilty to the charge, considering that she already served time in prison. Prior to her conviction on January 19, Anchan talked to iLaw, a non-profit organization, about what she was hoping from her trial:

My only hope is that the court has compassion for me. I was charged with 29 counts of violation of the law. I have been imprisoned for nearly 4 years. Even though all I did was share clips.

If I have to go back to prison, as a society, we have to ask, where is the standard of enforcing the law?

But the court decided otherwise:

Her appeal for bail was also denied the following day. The court cited the “trauma” caused by Anchan's actions in denying her bail request:

The bail rejection elicited criticism from civil society leaders:

Anchan’s guilty verdict and the long prison sentence she received alarmed human rights groups in Thailand. It reflected the increasing use of Lèse-majesté law to silence critics of the military-backed government.

In 2020, massive protests mobilized young Thais who demanded the restoration of democracy, including the need to reform the monarchy. The government used emergency decree measures and the Lèse-majesté law to threaten activists with arrest if they continue to organize protests during the pandemic.

As of January 19, at least 54 people have been charged or summoned by the police to hear Lèse-majesté charges within the last few weeks.

Recently, a Lèse-majesté complaint was filed against an opposition leader for questioning the government’s COVID-19 vaccination program. Allegedly, a company involved in the planned distribution of vaccines is funded by the monarchy.

Several students, activists, and protest leaders were arrested by the police this month in connection to Lèse-majesté charges.

Manushya Foundation criticized the “cruel” sentence received by Anchan

Although her sentence was reduced to 43 years, it’s still too harsh & unnecessary cruel. Should a defamation case land someone several decades in jail? It's time for us to talk about #ม112 & urging for it to be repealed!

Journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk wrote that Anchan’s case might push more Thais to action:

When a law ceases to become just in the eyes of enough people, it loses its efficacy. It draws more criticism and not just against the law, but the government and the monarchy as well.

At that point, the use of an unjust law will in fact become counter-productive. (I think it’s already the case.)

This tweet by a BBC journalist sums up the reaction of many observers of Thai politics:

Anchan is awaiting the result of her appeal.

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