, BANGKOK, Dec 15 – A court in Thailand sentenced a “Red Shirt” political activist to 15 years in prison on Thursday for insulting the monarchy, the latest in a series of convictions under the kingdom’s lese majeste laws.
Daranee Charnchoengsilapakul, a hardcore supporter of Thailand’s ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was accused of defaming the royals during speeches at political rallies in 2008.
“The Criminal Court convicted her on three counts as she committed offences on three different occasions, and sentenced her to five years for each,” her lawyer Prawais Prapannugool told AFP.
“She said she will not appeal her sentence because she lost her faith in the judicial system and she is convinced that she will not receive a fair trial,” he added.
The activist – better known as “Da Torpedo” because of her hard-hitting speeches – was sentenced to 18 years in jail in 2009, but an appeals court ordered a retrial because the hearings were held behind closed doors.
Critics accuse Thailand of increasing the use of its lese majeste legislation to suppress freedom of expression, particularly under the last government, which was supported by the Bangkok-based elite.
Observers say the new administration of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra – Thaksin’s sister, who took power in August – has yet to improve the situation.
A 61-year-old Thai man was jailed last month for 20 years for sending text messages deemed insulting to the monarchy, while a US citizen was handed two-and-a-half years in prison last week for defaming the king.
In a statement issued late Wednesday following increased criticism of the legislation, foreign ministry spokesman Thani Thongphakdi defended the legal proceedings against the two men as well as the law itself.
“It is not aimed at curbing people’s rights to freedom of opinion and expression nor the legitimate exercise of academic freedom including debates about the monarchy as an institution,” he said.
The US Consul General earlier said the US citizen’s sentence was “severe”, and Washington has voiced alarm over the recent series of lese majeste court cases, calling for Thai authorities to ensure freedom of expression.
On Thursday the US embassy in Bangkok requested users on its Facebook page to refrain from abusive language, after a torrent of angry messages from Thais defending the law and the monarchy.