Longest prison sentence ever for lese majeste

A man was jailed for 35 years on Friday for lese majeste and defamation – the longest prison sentence to date for such a case, according to human rights advocates.

Wichai, whose fearful family requested his last name be withheld, was taken to the Bangkok Military Court on Friday to hear the ruling.

The 34-year-old was arrested in Chiang Mai province in December 2015 after allegedly setting up a Facebook account using a different name and profile picture. He was sentenced for posting 10 video clips, pictures and texts referring to the monarchy.

He was charged with 10 violations of the lese majeste law, 11 defamation offences, and breaching the Computer Crime Act by posting false information.

Wichai had earlier denied all charges. When the court process languished for a year-and-a-half with no progress, with no witnesses appearing for the plaintiffs at two scheduled hearings, he decided to admit all charges in May.

The court sentenced him to a total of 70 years in prison, then halved the sentence because he confessed.

The court dismissed the charge referring to the Computer Crime Act, saying the original act, before it was amended and came into effect this year, did not cover the offence.

Wichai, who has been detained in custody all that time, said on Friday he had realised the court process would drag on for years. Serving a prison term with hope of a royal amnesty would be a quicker way to an eventual release, he said.

His penalty is the longest sentence relating to lese majeste on record, according to iLaw, an advocacy group monitoring human rights cases in Thailand. 

The previous longest sentence was Pongsak Sriboonpeng, imprisoned for six posts on Facebook. He was given 30 years (reduced from 70 years).

“It’s not beyond my expectations. It can’t be worse than this,” Wichai said.

He said he would request a transfer from Bangkok Remand Prison to Chiang Mai prison, which was more convenient for family visits.

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