BANGKOK — A 64-year-old woman was sentenced to 43 years in prison on Tuesday for sharing audio files deemed to be defaming the monarchy on the internet – a new record set under the draconian law.
Anchan Preelert, a former government official at the Revenue Department, was convicted of 29 counts of royal defamation by a Criminal Court, prompting outcry from human rights activists who said the verdict is disproportionate.
Anchan’s lawyer, Pawinee Chumsri, said the court already gave the lightest punishment because she pleaded guilty – she was initially sentenced to 87 years in jail – but the lese majeste offense states that a minimum penalty must be at least 3 years per count.
“This is the law, the judges couldn’t bring it lower,” Pawinee, an attorney from the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, said by phone. “The punishment of 3 to 15 years under the law is too high.”
Pawinee said her client is appealing the verdict.
Read: Lese Majeste Conviction Rate Higher Since Coup, UN Says
Anchan was arrested in 2015, about a year after the junta, National Council for Peace and Order, came to power through a military coup. She was tried under a military tribunal per a junta’s order that permitted civilians to be court martialed for crimes that affected “national security.”
She was also held in prison for four years while the trial was ongoing, and she was only granted bail in November 2018. Anchan was also fired from her job at the Revenue Department.
The sound clips shared by Anchan were produced and uploaded to YouTube by an activist named Hatsadin Uraipraiwan, aka Banpot, her lawyer said. She reportedly shared the links, which contained critical remarks about King Rama IX and then-Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, on social media from November 2014 to January 2015.
Speaking to reporters at the court, Anchan said she saw many people sharing the same audio clips without facing any repercussions. The defendant also said she hadn’t “thought it through” before sharing the clips.
The producer of those audio clips, Banpot, was arrested in February 2015 and later given a two and half years jail term by the military court. Banpot was convicted of only one count – making the offensive material – while Anchan was found guilty of 29 separate counts for sharing Banpot’s content.
Anon Chawalawan, a coordinator at iLaw, a law-reform advocacy group, said the harsh sentence highlights the problem with the royal defamation law, which stipulates that a guilty verdict must result in at least three year imprisonment and prevents the court from handing out a lighter jail term.
“The court could not just come out with another number,” Anon, who attended today’s ruling, said by phone.
In August 2015, military courts sentenced two people in one day to a combined 58 years in prison for allegedly insulting the monarchy over Facebook. The 30-year sentence given to a Kanchanaburi man set a new record at the time. A woman in northern Thailand received 28 years in jail.
The record was broken in 2017, when a 35-year-old man was sentenced to a 35-year prison term by the Bangkok Military Court for writing 10 Facebook messages deemed offensive to the monarchy. A new record was set again today with the verdict in Anchan’s case.
Former lese majeste convict and political activist Ekachai Hongkangwan was at the court today to give moral support to Anchan. Ekachai said he believes that the tendency to hand out lengthy sentences has returned, a phenomenon not seen since the early years of King Rama X’s reign.
“I am now worried for the 40 plus people charged under the law,” Ekachai said. “Many of them are facing multiple counts of offences.”