A court in Bangkok sentenced a leading figure in Thailand’s pro-democracy movement to four years in prison for lese majeste, under a controversial law that younger generations are calling for reform.
Anon Numpa, a 39-year-old lawyer, was prosecuted for a speech given in 2020 in front of the Democracy Monument, a symbolic gathering place in the heart of the capital for the progressive camp.
At that time, massive demonstrations shook the kingdom to demand a thorough overhaul of the powerful monarchy, protected by a royal defamation law deemed too harsh.
The text on lèse-majesté, known in Thailand by its article number in the Penal Code (“112”), punishes any insult aimed at the king or his family with up to fifteen years in prison.
Anon Numpa was also ordered to pay a fine of 20,000 baht (520 euros) for violating the state of emergency in place in 2020 to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
His lawyer said after the verdict that they would likely appeal.
“It is a sacrifice of my freedom that I am ready to assume,” explained the activist when arriving at court, accompanied by his partner and their child.
“We have seen a lot of changes in Thai politics since the 2020 movement (…) If I am sentenced to prison today (Tuesday), it would be for many years, but it would be worth it” , he continued.
It’s “a long prison sentence for exercising your rights,” reacted Andrea Giorgetta, of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH, non-governmental organization).
Since the outbreak of pro-democracy protests, more than 200 people, including minors, have been accused of violating the lèse-majesté law.
Human rights organizations denounced the misuse of the text in order to target opponents of the generals then in power.
Removing Article 112 was one of the flagship promises of the pro-democracy party Move Forward which won the legislative elections last May.
But the progressive formation was pushed back to the gates of power by the military-royalist elites who dominate the institutions and reject its program deemed too radical.
The new Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, at the head of a broad coalition including pro-army movements, assured before her inauguration that she was not going to touch lèse-majesté.