A Bangkok court has sentenced a former civil servant to a record prison term of 43 years and six months for breaching the country’s strict law on insulting or defaming the monarchy.
The Bangkok Criminal Court found Anchan Preelert, 65 guilty on 29 counts of violating the country’s lese majeste law for posting audio clips to Facebook and YouTube with comments deemed critical of the monarchy.
Violating Thailand’s lese majeste law – known widely as Article 112 – is punishable by three to 15 years’ imprisonment per count. The law is controversial not only because it has been used to punish things as simple as liking a post on Facebook but also because anyone – not just royals or authorities – can lodge a complaint that can tie the person accused up in legal proceedings for years.
The court initially announced the sentence to be 87 years, but reduced it by half because she pleaded guilty to the offencses.
Her case dates back six years, when anti-establishment sentiment was growing after a 2014 military coup led by Prayuth. She was held in jail from January 2015 to November 2018.
She denied the charges when her case was first heard in military court, where lese majeste offenses were prosecuted for a period after the coup. When her case was transferred to criminal court, she pleaded guilty with the hope that the court would have sympathy for her actions, because she had only shared the audio, not posted or commented on it, she told local media Tuesday on her arrival at court.
“I thought it was nothing. There were so many people who shared this content and listened to it. The guy (who made the content) had done it for so many years,” Anchan said. “So I didn’t really think this through and was too confident and not being careful enough to realise at the time that it wasn’t appropriate.” The audio related to a podcast host known as “DJ Banpodj,” a fiery critic of the monarchy
She said she had worked as a civil servant for 40 years and was arrested one year before retirement, and with a conviction would lose her pension.
What is believed to have previously been the longest lese majeste sentence was issued in 2017, when a military court sentenced a man to 35 years in prison for social media posts deemed defamatory to the monarchy. The man, a salesman, had initially been sentenced to 70 years, but had his sentence halved after pleading guilty.
The Thai Lawyers for Human Rights group said Anchan had applied for bail pending an appeal against the sentence.