NEW YORK—The sentence of 35 years for a man convicted of insulting the monarchy on Facebook is a severe punishment of free expression and a clear demonstration of the need to immediately reform Thailand’s lèse-majesté law, PEN America said today.

The defendant, who has been identified only by the first name Wichai, was arrested in Chiang Mai in December 2015 after police began an investigation of a Facebook account which had allegedly posted messages deemed insulting to the monarchy. After his arrest, Wichai was accused of creating the Facebook account in another person’s name. In May 2017, Wichai pleaded guilty to the charges against him.  Between his 2015 arrest and his 2017 conviction, Wichai had reportedly been kept in detention for over a year.

On June 9, 2017, Wichai was sentenced to 10 separate counts of lèse-majesté  with each Facebook message deemed insulting constituting a separate count. The court handed down seven years imprisonment for each count, but reduced the penalty by half in light of Wichai’s guilty plea, for a total of 35 years imprisonment. Wichai’s sentence is reportedly the longest such sentence ever imposed under the law. The previous record, in 2015, was for 30 years.

Another Thai citizen, identified only as Chaliew, was also sentenced on June 9 to two-and-a-half years after pleading guilty to lèse-majesté charges. Chaliew had reportedly been jailed for three years during court proceedings after his arrest in June 2014.

Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code, or Thailand’s lèse-majesté law that criminalizes defamation of Thailand’s monarch or the monarchy, is widely considered the strictest law of its kind in the world. The law has often been used against dissidents and political opponents of the ruling regime. Under the country’s current military rule of General Prayuth Chan-Ocha, the use of lèse-majesté  charges has risen dramatically.

“Thirty-five years in jail for seven Facebook posts is neither reasonable nor just,” said Katherine Glenn Bass, Director of Free Expression Research and Policy at PEN America. “The extreme penalties applied in this case are another demonstration of why the Thai government should immediately amend Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code with the goal of conforming to international human rights guarantees.”

PEN America has previously raised concerns over the deteriorating state of free expression in Thailand, including the 2016 amendments to the Computer Crime Act and the imprisonment of student activists Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkong, who were sentenced under lèse-majesté  after staging a play about a fictional monarch.

###

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT
Sarah Edkins, PEN America: sedkins@pen.org+1 646.779.4830