Chiang Rai activist sentenced to 50 years in prison for royal defamation

A 30-year-old activist from Chiang Rai has been sentenced to 50 years in prison for royal defamation after the Appeal Court ruled to increase the sentence given to him by the Chiang Rai Provincial Court.

Mongkhon Thirakot (Photo by Ginger Cat)

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said yesterday (18 January) that the Appeal Court sentenced Mongkhon Thirakot, an activist and online clothing vendor from Chiang Rai, to an additional 22 years in prison, bringing his total prison sentence to 50 years.

Mongkhon was charged with royal defamation and violation of the Computer Crime Act for 27 Facebook posts 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.

On 26 January 2023, the Chiang Rai provincial Court found him guilty on 14 out of 27 counts of royal defamation and sentenced him to 28 years in prison, ruling that 13 of the posts did not constitute an offense under the royal defamation law because they did not refer to a specific person or referred to the late King Bhumibol, while some posts that contained pictures of King Vajiralongkorn were not defamatory.

However, the Appeal Court found Mongkhon guilty on an additional 11 counts because he used profanities and posted parodies or disrespectful images of the King, which were defamatory and damaged the King’s reputation and cannot be considered criticism or symbolic display of protest.

The Appeal Court also ruled that 9 of the posts which referred to King Bhumibol, for which the Court of First Instance found Mongkhon not guilty, also constitute an offense under the royal defamation law. It cited a Supreme Court ruling from 2013 that the royal defamation law also covers past monarchs.

For two other posts which do not refer to specific kings, the Appeal Court found Mongkhon guilty since it ruled that his intention to defame the King was clear.

Mongkhon’s 50-year sentence is the longest prison sentence ever given for royal defamation, being higher 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 at the time, 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 lawyer filed for bail to appeal his sentence to the Supreme Court. The Chiang Rai Provincial Court forwarded his bail sentence to the Supreme Court, which subsequently denied him bail on the grounds that he is a flight risk since he was given such a high sentence. He is now detained at the Chiang Rai Central Prison.

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