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Thai courts hand jail terms to lawmaker and musician

Thai courts hand jail terms to lawmaker and musician

On Monday, May 27, courts in Thailand handed jail sentences to an activist musician who set fire to a portrait of the king and to an opposition lawmaker for insulting the monarchy, according to their lawyers.

Another activist advocating for monarchy reform, who had gone on a partial hunger strike after being accused of harassing a royal motorcade and charged with sedition, was granted bail from pre-trial detention at a separate hearing, a legal aid group reported. Both the musician and the lawmaker were convicted under Thailand’s lese-majeste law, one of the strictest of its kind globally, which protects the monarchy from criticism and imposes up to 15 years in prison for each offense.

Chonthicha Jangrew, 31, a parliamentarian with the Move Forward Party, received a two-year sentence for a speech delivered at an anti-government protest in 2021. She denied the charge and was granted bail pending an appeal, her lawyer Marisa Pidsaya informed Reuters.

In another ruling, musician Chaiamorn Kaewwiboonpan, 35, was sentenced to four years in prison for burning a portrait of King Maha Vajiralongkorn. Chaiamorn, found guilty of arson, lese-majeste, and computer crimes, also denied the charge, stating he burned the portrait out of frustration over the detention of fellow activists on similar charges. The legal aid group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights announced that Chaiamorn was granted bail and plans to appeal.

The courts have yet to issue statements on these sentences, and the palace typically does not comment on the law. Since 2020, more than 272 people have been charged under the lese-majeste law, with 17 currently in pre-trial detention, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

In a third ruling on Monday, the court granted bail to 22-year-old Tantawan “Tawan” Tuatulanon from pre-trial detention, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights reported. She was arrested in February and charged with sedition and other violations after a live Facebook broadcast showing her arguing with police who were blocking traffic for a royal motorcade carrying Princess Sirindhorn, the king’s sister. She has denied the charges and was recently hospitalized due to her weakened condition from a partial hunger strike.

A youth-led political movement that emerged in 2020 has broken traditional taboos by calling for monarchy reform and criticizing the blocking of traffic for royal motorcades. Two weeks ago, activist Netiporn “Bung” Sanesangkhom died in pre-trial detention on charges including insulting royals. She had also been on a partial hunger strike, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

Chonthicha secured a House seat last year with the popular opposition Move Forward Party, which holds the most seats in parliament and is currently facing its own legal battles after campaigning to amend the royal insults law. Thailand’s Constitutional Court ordered the party to remove this policy from its manifesto and faces possible dissolution for allegedly undermining the nation’s governance system, with the king as head of state. Move Forward denies these allegations, arguing it aimed to prevent the law’s use as a political weapon.

Additionally, a separate complaint seeks life bans for 44 current and former lawmakers over the bid to change the law. Last year, Move Forward lawmaker Rukchanok Srinork was sentenced to six years in prison over social media posts critical of the monarchy.

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