Thai Court of Appeals Hands an Activist a Record 50-Year Prison Term for Insulting the Monarchy

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Mongkhol Thirakot makes a pro-democracy gesture. (Photo/AP)

BANGKOK (AP) — A court of appeals in Thailand has handed a political activist a record sentence for the criminal offense of insulting the monarchy, giving him a 50-year prison term after finding him guilty of 25 violations of the law, a lawyers’ group said Thursday.

Mongkhol Thirakot, 30, had originally been sentenced last year to 28 years in prison by the provincial court in the northern province of Chiang Rai for 14 of the 27 posts on Facebook for which he was charged.

Mongkhol was found guilty by the Northern Region Court of Appeals in Chiang Rai on Thursday, not just in the 14 cases but also in 11 of the 13 cases for which the lower court had acquitted him, the group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights announced.

The court of appeals sentenced him to an additional 22 years in prison, bringing his total to 50 years. Technically, he had been given a prison term of 75 years, but the sentence was cut by one-third in acknowledgement of his cooperation in the legal proceedings.

The law on insulting the monarchy, an offense known as lèse-majesté, carries a prison term of three to 15 years for each count. It’s often referred to as Article 112 after its designation in Thailand’s Criminal Code.

Critics say the law is often wielded as a tool to quash political dissent. Student-led pro-democracy protests beginning in 2020 openly criticized the monarchy, previously a taboo subject, leading to vigorous prosecutions under the law, which had previously been infrequently employed.

Since those protests, more than 260 people have been charged with the offense, according to the lawyers’ group.

The court of appeals reversed the lower court’s acquittals on the basis that the law applied in instances where it wasn’t the current monarch or his immediate family who was being referred to, which had been the standard for many years. However, as lèse-majesté prosecutions became more common over the last decade, a court case set a precedent by finding that past rulers were also covered by the law.