Critics of Thai junta face charges of insulting monarchy

AP News
Posted: Dec 15, 2015 11:19 AM

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand's junta is stepping up its offensive against critics, with a military court on Tuesday sentencing a single mother to seven years in jail for posting material on the Internet said to be insulting to the monarchy, just a day after another person was accused of disparaging the king's dog.

Thanakorn Siripaiboon was charged with lese majeste, or insulting the monarchy, for posting an apparently inappropriate photo of royal dog Tongdaeng and for clicking 'Like' on a Facebook page with a derogatory photo of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Lese majeste in punishable by three to 15 years in prison per incident.

The stray dog was adopted by the king in 1998, and soon became his close companion. The king wrote a book in 2002 about Tongdaeng that served as a parable for the behavior he wanted his countrymen to show, a point he also made in one of his annual birthday speeches.

The military, which declared after seizing power last year that safeguarding the monarchy was one of its priorities, has stepped up the pace of lese majeste prosecutions. The targets have generally been people sympathetic with the "Red Shirt" movement which supported the ousted civilian government and opposed the coup.

Thanakorn, arrested last Wednesday, is also charged with sedition for sharing an infographic purporting to show the web of alleged corruption around a park constructed by the army to honor past Thai kings. Allegations of financial wrongdoing by army officials have tainted the reputation of the military government, which claims to be seeking to purge Thai politics of corruption.

The woman sentenced to seven years in jail, identified by her lawyer as Chayapha C., was arrested in June for a Facebook posting allegedly opposing the military government. Because she pleaded guilty to the charge, her original 14-year sentence was halved, said Sasinan Thamnithinan of the group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

Rights groups and Thai media reported that another man, Thanet Anantawong, was arrested Sunday at a hospital in connection with the same infographic alleging army corruption.

Thanet "was admitted to the hospital with an intestinal infection Friday and was about to be operated upon for a hernia when he was taken away," the website of the Khaosod newspaper reported. He is being held on charges of lese majeste, sedition and violating the Computer Crime Act.

Khasosod reported on the royal dog's photo on Monday, but by evening removed the story from its website, saying the newspaper's management "feared that content in the article might lead to possible legal action."

Self-censorship has become increasingly prevalent in the Thai media since the military took power. The printer of the Thai edition of the International New York Times removed an article Tuesday about the royal dog, the third time in a month that it has deleted stories about Thailand.

King Bhumibol, who turned 88 earlier this month and is ailing, made a rare, brief appearance on television on Monday. He has been hospitalized for most of the past six years, and his last appearance before the general public was on Sept. 1.