Activist sentenced to 28 years in prison for royal defamation

A 29-year-old activist in Chiang Rai has been sentenced to 28 years in prison on royal defamation charges resulting from a number of Facebook posts about the monarchy. The Chiang Rai Provincial Court found him guilty on 14 counts.

Mongkhon Thirakot during his protest in April 2021

Mongkhon Thirakot, a 29-year-old activist and online clothing vendor from Chiang Rai, was initially arrested in April 2021 while taking part in a hunger strike in front of the Ratchadaphisek Criminal Court to demand the release of activists held in pre-trial detention at the time.

He was later charged with royal defamation and violation of the Computer Crime Act for 25 Facebook posts he made between 2 – 11 March 2021, including messages referring to the King’s images, sharing video clips and foreign news reports about the Thai monarchy, and sharing posts from Somsak Jeamteerasakul’s Facebook page while adding captions.

Police officers also searched his house in Chiang Rai and confiscated several pieces of paper with messages written on them, a declaration by the activist group Ratsadorn, an armband with the three-finger salute symbol, and a red ribbon, and had his mother sign documents to acknowledge the search and confiscation. Mongkhon’s mobile phone was also confiscated when he was arrested in Bangkok.

He was arrested again in May 2021 and charged with 2 more counts on the same charges for 2 more Facebook posts. He was granted bail both times.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported that the Chiang Rai Provincial Court yesterday (26 January) found Mongkhon guilty of 14 counts of royal defamation, on the ground that 14 out of the 27 posts can be determined to be about King Vajiralongkorn and that they are an expression of opinion that is outside the limit of the law. As for the remaining 13 posts, the Court said that they were either about the late King Bhumibol or an undetermined person and dismissed them.

The court sentenced Mongkhon to 3 years in prison on each count, but reduced the sentence to 2 years per count because he gave useful testimony, giving a total sentence of 28 years, which TLHR said is the highest sentence given for royal defamation since 2020. However, TLHR noted that his sentence is still lower than the sentence given to Anchan Preelert, who was initially arrested in 2015 and later sentenced to 43 years and 6 months in prison, the longest-ever sentence under the royal defamation law, for allegedly sharing and uploading clips on social media of an online talk show alleged to include defamatory comments about the monarchy. She has been detained since 20 January 2021 after the Appeal Court rejected her bail request.

Mongkhon’s sentence has been widely reported on international media, including NPR, Deutsche Welle, and several other Australian media outlets, such as the Canberra Times and the South Western Times.

Mongkhon was later granted bail to appeal his charges on the condition that he must not do anything that damages the monarchy or leave the country. Since he posted bail using a total of 300,000 baht in security when he was arrested, the court did not require additional security.

TLHR noted that the court ordered Mongkhon to be tried in secret, and that initially no one not involved in the trial was allowed inside the courtroom. Mongkhon’s lawyer had to ask the court for permission before Mongkhon’s parents could enter the courtroom.

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