Thailand Sentences Civil Servant to 43 Years for Insulting Monarchy
PEN America says Thailand's lèse-majesté laws are incompatible with international standards of free expression
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(New York, NY) — A former civil servant in Bangkok has been sentenced to 43 years imprisonment under Thailand’s lèse-majesté law on Tuesday, which criminalizes insulting the monarchy. PEN America today said the sentence was draconian and demonstrates the law’s status as a tool for political repression alongside its complete incompatibility with international standards for freedom of expression.
On Tuesday, former civil servant Anchan Preelert was sentenced to 43 years imprisonment by a Bangkok court for violating Thailand’s lèse-majesté law, which criminalizes insults to the Thai monarchy. Anchan had reportedly shared audio clips on social media that the court deemed critical of Thailand’s monarchy. She was originally sentenced to 87 years imprisonment, but this term was cut in half because she pled guilty.
“Tuesday’s sentence serves as the newest and most outrageous example of how unjust and unwise Thailand’s lèse-majesté law is, and how repressively it is being wielded,” said James Tager, research director at PEN America. “It is long past time for the Thai government to remove or amend this law, which has long been wielded as a cudgel against peaceful political expression, and which is seeing increased use today as a tool for Thai authorities to crack down on their own people.”
Thailand’s lèse-majesté law makes it a crime to “insult” or “defame” the King or the royal family. Under the law, such an insult is punishable by three to 15 years imprisonment. Anchan’s prison sentence exceeds this term because she was repeatedly charged under the same provision, with each charge counting separately.
Thailand has seen a significant rise in lèse-majesté cases since 2020 in the wake of protests calling for political reform, including reforms to ensure that the monarchy is subject to the constitution. Thai authorities have wielded the lèse-majesté law , among other criminal provisions that target speech, against leaders and supporters of the protest.
PEN America, along with other members of the PEN International network, have previously called upon Thai authorities to immediately abolish or reform the law in line with international human rights guarantees. International legal experts, including the former UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression, have been explicit that the lèse-majesté law is inconsistent with Thailand’s international legal obligations.