Thai man faces a record 50 years in jail for royal insult

BANGKOK (Reuters) – A 30-year-old Thai man is facing a record 50 years in prison for royal insult from dozens of social media posts perceived to criticise the monarchy, his lawyer said, after an appeal court on Thursday added more jail time to his initial conviction.

Mongkol “Busbas” Thirakot, an online clothing vendor from northern Chiang Rai province, was handed 22 years jail time after an appeal court found more royal insult violations, adding to a 28-year sentence handed down by a criminal court last year.

Thailand’s lese majeste law, one of the strictest in the world, protects the palace from criticism and carries a jail sentence of up to 15 years for each perceived violation, a punishment condemned by international human rights groups as extreme.

Mongkol was arrested in April 2021 and received a 28-year sentence last January for 14 violations of lese majeste. The appeal court confirmed his prior conviction and found him guilty of 11 more violations.

Thailand’s lese majeste law, which protects King Maha Vajiralongkorn and his close family from criticism, is referred to as 112 after the relevant section of the criminal code.

“He faces 50 years jail, the longest in the history of article 112 cases,” Theeraphon Khoomsap, Mongkol’s lawyer told Reuters.

Theeraphon said Mongkol denies wrongdoing and will appeal his sentence to the Supreme Court.

The previous record conviction of lese majeste was in 2021 when Anchan Preelert, a retired civil servant, was handed an 87-year jail term for 29 counts of royal insult. Her sentence was reduced to 43 years because she acknowledged her violations.

According to legal aid group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, at least 262 people have been charged with lese majeste offences since 2020 when unprecedented youth-led street demonstrations erupted in which protest leaders openly criticised the monarchy.

(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Ros Russell)