BANGKOK (AP) — A Thai military court on Tuesday sentenced 10 people to prison terms for distributing online content that it said insulted the country's monarchy.
The 10 sentenced on lese majeste charges were part of what police said was a network headed by Hassadin Uraipraiwan, known online as "DJ Banpodj." Hassadin created video clips and uploaded them to sites such as YouTube, from which members of a Facebook group reposted them. Defense lawyer Yingcheep Atchanont said his clients told him they had not known each other before making contact through the social media site.
Police described the network as a serious threat to the monarchy and the nation's stability, saying it incited "chaos and hatred in society."
Critics of the military government that took power in a coup last year say the lese majeste law is used to intimidate political opponents. Hassadin, who began uploading the clips in 2010, was a supporter of Thailand's Red Shirt movement, which backs former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a 2006 military coup.
Eight of the 10 were ordered to serve 5-year jail terms and two others — found to have only abetted the others — were given three years each. The original sentences of all were cut in half because they confessed and pleaded guilty.
Yingcheep, an attorney from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, said of 400 clips made by Hassadin criticizing both politicians and the monarchy, prosecutors focused on just one that referred to the king in derogatory language.
Yingcheep said the case illustrated how people who share something on Facebook receive as harsh a penalty as the person who originally produced and posted the illegal material. He said he believes people who just shared the material should receive a lesser penalty.
Of the 14 people originally arrested in the case between January and February, two others decided to fight the case and another two are being tried separately because their offenses are considered more serious.
Lese majeste cases have risen sharply in Thailand since the military government took power in May 2014.
"Maybe the military government is trying to show that their duty is to protect the monarchy by arresting more and more people," Yingcheep said. Soon after taking power the junta declared that protecting the monarchy was a top priority.
There is widespread concern over the future of the monarchy because revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej is 87 years old and ailing. His son, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, does not command the same respect and affection as the king.