January 23, 2013 7:41 am

Thai activist sentenced over royal insults

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Activist Somyot Pruksakasemsuk arrives at criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand on Wednesday, January 23 2013. The court has sentenced the prominent labor rights activist and magazine editor to 10 years in prison for publishing a pair of articles prosecutors said defamed the country's monarchy.©AP

BANGKOK – A prominent Thai labour rights activist and magazine editor was sentenced to a decade in prison on Wednesday for violating much-debated laws designed to protect Thailand’s royal family.

The verdict came despite repeated calls by rights groups to free Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, who has been jailed since 2011. It also underscored the harsh nature of Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws, which have been criticised as a violation of free speech.

The articles in question were published under pseudonyms in Mr Somyot’s now-defunct Voice of Taksin magazine, which he launched in 2009 to compile political news and anti-establishment articles from writers and contributors.

Judges found both articles in question contained content that defamed the royal family and argued that Mr Somyot, as a veteran editor, knew that and chose to print the stories anyway. The court handed down two five-year jail terms – one for each story.

Mr Somyot said he would appeal the verdict but would not seek a royal pardon.

Although Mr Somyot’s articles were published in 2010, he was only arrested the following year after launching a petition drive to revoke Article 112 of the nation’s criminal code, which mandates three to 15 years in jail for “whoever defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the regent”.

“The courts seem to have adopted the role of chief protector of the monarchy at the expense of free expression rights,” Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said. “The court’s ruling appears to be more about Mr Somyot’s strong support for amending the lèse-majesté law than about any harm incurred by the monarchy.”

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