BANGKOK, Jan 20 – A jail term handed down to an Australian for insulting Thailand’s royals is a "serious violation" of free expression and part of a worrying increase in such cases, a media rights watchdog said.
Harry Nicolaides, 41, was sentenced to three years in jail by a Bangkok court Monday after pleading guilty to lese majeste, or slandering the monarchy.
Reporters Without Borders called for a review of the case and his rapid release.
"Nicolaides was given the lightest sentence envisaged under the lese majeste law but this is nonetheless a serious violation of free expression," the Paris-based group said in a statement late Monday.
"The growing number of arrests on lese majeste charges and Nicolaides’ conviction … are disturbing developments that confirm our fear of a dangerous politicisation of lese majeste, which is now apparently being used to silence people."
The charge related to a passage in Nicolaides’ novel self-published in 2005, of which his family says only a handful of copies were sold.
Thailand has some of the strictest laws in the world protecting the revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his family from insult, but media freedom groups have accused authorities of abusing the law to suppress dissenting voices.
Thai authorities have banned nearly 4,000 websites in recent months for allegedly insulting the monarchy. Police said last week that more than 17 criminal cases of insulting the royal family are currently active.