A 64-year-old Thai woman, Anchan Preelert, was sentenced on Tuesday, January 19, to eighty-seven years’ imprisonment for the crime of lese majesty. However, her sentence was halved because she pleaded guilty: forty-three years. This exceptionally severe verdict is part of a political context marked by the shattering return of article 112 of the penal code (which provides for three to fifteen years in prison for insulting the king, the queen, the crown prince or to the regent), an implacable legal tool now intended to nail the beak to any potential contemptor of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Since December 2020, after several months of demonstrations by students and urban youth demanding in particular a “reform of the monarchy”, an institution particularly opaque to the Kingdom of Thailand, cases of lèse majesté have been raining down on the heads of the most daring activists of the pro-democracy movement: around 40 people, including a 16-year-old minor, were accused of lèse-majesté.
The current sovereign, ascended to the throne in December 2016, had however expressed the wish, as publicly announced by the Prime Minister, Prayuth Chan-o-cha, in June 2020, that article 112 no longer be applied. . The recent proliferation of anti-government parades, during which His Majesty was sometimes shouted at, mocked, caricatured, has probably changed the mind of the richest sovereign in the world, whose power is not reduced to his theoretical role of constitutional monarch.
The student movement on hiatus
The student movement has, however, been on hiatus since the end of December 2020 due to a new wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. With the exception of a parade… against article 112, which took place at the end of last week not far from the royal palace.
The case of Anchan Preelert is emblematic: this former official of the tax office faced 29 charges covered by the “112”, as they say in Bangkok. “The court’s verdict is shocking and sends a chilling message to warn that not only will any criticism of the monarchy not be tolerated, but that it will be severely punished,” reacted Sunai Phasuk of the human rights NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Anchan Preelert was arrested in 2015, a year after the latest coup led by current Prime Minister Prayuth. His crime? Having shared on a social network an audio clip shot in 2014 by an activist named Hasadin Uraipraiwan, which contained passages deemed defamatory against the king, then still crown prince. Not only was the accused not the author of this recording, but she had contented herself with sharing the link. On leaving court, Anchan further argued to the press that she had seen many other people exchanging the same link without having been the subject of legal proceedings.
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