Nov. 24 (Bloomberg) -- A Thai court sentenced a retired truck driver to 20 years in prison for sending text messages that threatened and defamed Queen Sirikit, one of the longest jail terms given under laws protecting the royal family.
Ampol Tangnoppakul, 61, who pleaded not guilty, sent four messages in May to the mobile phone of an aide to former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, the court said yesterday. It rejected a defense argument that his phone was being repaired at the time.
The messages “indicated intent to harm and defamation against Her Majesty that would trigger hatred,” the court said. “All the messages were untrue.”
Thailand has seen a surge in the number of cases alleging insults against the royal family in recent years. The military has accused former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his supporters of undermining King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 83, who took the throne in 1946 and has his picture hung in the majority of Thai homes out of reverence.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister, took power from Abhisit on Aug. 9 after her Pheu Thai party won a majority in July elections. She said this week an annual royal pardon in honor of the king’s Dec. 5 birthday wouldn’t include Thaksin, who has lived overseas since fleeing a two-year jail sentence for abuse of power in 2008.
Thailand’s constitution says the king “shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated.” The lese-majeste law makes it a criminal offense to defame, insult or threaten the king, queen, heir apparent or regent. Offenders face as many as 15 years in prison per charge.
In 2009, 478 lese-majeste cases went before the lower courts, up from 164 the previous year and 33 in 2005, according to statistics compiled by David Streckfuss, an academic based in northeast Thailand. Ampol was also sentenced under the Computer Crimes Act, which has recently been used in conjunction with the lese majeste law.
“Given that the law was intended to control crimes through the use of computer, a text message on a cell phone seems like a broad interpretation,” Streckfuss said by phone.
Ampol worked as a truck driver before an operation to remove cancer from his tongue in 2007, which left him unable to speak properly, according to iLaw, a group of activists and lawyers that track these cases.
--Editors: Peter Hirschberg, Nicholas Wadhams
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