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Man jailed in Thailand for insulting royalty

A Thai businessman has been sentenced to five years in prison for royal defamation, a court official said Wednesday, one of a string of recent cases under the controversial law.

BANGKOK: A Thai businessman has been sentenced to five years in prison for royal defamation, a court official said Wednesday, one of a string of recent cases under the controversial law.

An appeal court in the northern province of Chiang Mai on Tuesday overturned an earlier acquittal of the defendant, Assawin, whose full name was withheld.

"He is seeking to appeal with the Supreme Court," the court official said.

Assawin was indicted for lese majeste in 2010 after a complaint from a business rival, who also accused him of trespassing and migrant smuggling.

Details of the royal insult were not immediately available.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 86, is revered by many Thais and protected by tough royal defamation laws.

Under the lese majeste rules, anyone convicted of defaming the king, queen, heir or regent faces up to 15 years in prison on each count.

Anybody can make a complaint and police are duty-bound to investigate.

Critics say the legislation has been politicised, noting that many of those charged are linked to the "Red Shirts" protest movement, which is broadly supportive of fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin clashed with the royalist establishment before his overthrow in a coup in 2006.

His younger sister Yingluck Shinawatra was ousted in a controversial court decision in May this year.

Since the army seized power later the same month, 13 people have been charged with royal defamation, including seven with involvement in politics, according to local rights group iLaw.

They include prominent anti-coup activist Sombat Boonngamanong, who led an anti-junta campaign using the three-finger salute from the "Hunger Games" films.

The royal defamation charge against Sombat relates to a photo that he allegedly posted online.

The junta has clamped down on any opposition to its takeover, with a crackdown on perceived slurs against the royals at the heart of its stepped-up online surveillance operations.

In a report released on Monday, iLaw said lese majeste was "an excuse which brings conflict and political violence and was the main reason for almost every coup".

Before the coup, calls for reform of the lese majeste laws had grown following several high-profile convictions.

But academics urging greater debate are among hundreds of people who were summoned by the junta and temporarily detained in secret locations.

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