Blogger Convicted of 112 After Secret Trial, 5-Year Captivity

Siraphop Kornarut, aka Rungsila, arrives at the Criminal Court on Jan. 18, 2021.

BANGKOK — A court on Monday sentenced a man to four years and six months in prison for allegedly insulting the late King Bhumibol on the internet – but he would not have to serve the sentence.

Because he had been in prison even longer than that for the charge.

Siraphop Kornarut was found guilty of royal insult under Article 112 of the Criminal Code, also known as lese majeste, and Computer Crime Act for a series of online articles and poems he wrote prior to his arrest days after the military seized power in May 2014.

The court said his writings, published between 2009 and 2014, contained “falsehood” about King Rama IX and aimed to “damage the public’s reverence” for the monarch, who died in October 2016. Due to legal concerns, Khaosod English cannot republish the materials.

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For the crimes, Siraphop was sentenced to four years and six months in jail.

But the jail term is shorter than the time Siraphop already spent in prison while waiting for his trial – he was remanded in prison from 2014 until his release about four years and 11 months later, in 2019.

The blogger said he will appeal the verdict.

A file photo of Siraphop Kornarut.

Siraphop, who wrote under the pseudonym Rungsila, was arrested under the regime of the National Council for Peace and Order, who came to power through a military coup on May 22, 2014.

He was sent to face trials under the military tribunal per a junta’s order that permitted civilians to be court martialed for alleged crimes that affected “national security.” Citing the sensitive nature of the case, the military judges ordered Siraphop’s trial to be convened in secret – observers could not attend its proceedings.

Siraphop was also held in a remand prison for nearly five years while the trial continued under a civilian court, despite a call made in 2019 by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention for his immediate release.

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The U.N. working group said Thai military courts “cannot be considered competent, independent or impartial” and Siraphop’s detention resulted from his peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression.

Lese majeste carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison per count. Multiple civil rights organizations said the law’s broad power is often used to silence political opponents and legitimate discussions about the monarchy.

Abolishing the royal defamation charge was also one of the goals sought by the street protests that rocked Thailand in 2020.