Thai activist jailed for 15 years for royal insult

BANGKOK Thu Dec 15, 2011 4:36pm IST

Darunee Charnchoengsilpakul, a supporter of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, gestures after leaving a courtroom in Bangkok August 28, 2009. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang/Files

Darunee Charnchoengsilpakul, a supporter of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, gestures after leaving a courtroom in Bangkok August 28, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Sukree Sukplang/Files

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BANGKOK (Reuters) - A Thai court jailed a political activist for 15 years on Thursday for insulting the country's monarchy, the latest in a series of tough sentences under the world's strictest lese-majeste laws.

The Criminal Court found Darunee Charnchoengsilpakul, better known as "Da Torpedo", guilty on three counts of lese-majeste over fiery comments she made during a political rally in 2008.

Darunee, 48, a staunch supporter of ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was found to have made defamatory comments against the monarchy during an exceptionally strong speech about a military coup that overthrew Thaksin in 2006.

What Darunee said was not disclosed during Thursday's proceedings and repeating her comments could result in legal action.

"What Darunee did was against the law," the judge said in delivering the verdict.

"She had committed this crime several times, so there was a charge of five years for each offence."

Although free speech is enshrined in Thailand's constitution, those deemed to have insulted 84-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej and certain members of the royal family are harshly dealt with.

The king, who is the world's longest-reigning monarch, is seen by many Thais as almost divine.

The verdict follows a 20-year jail term handed down last month to 61-year-old cancer sufferer Amphon Tangnoppaku, dubbed "Uncle SMS", for sending text messages deemed to have disparaged Queen Sirikit, a ruling that prompted outrage, with Human Rights Watch describing the punishment as "shocking".

Rights groups, several newspapers and a growing number of Thai activists have stepped up calls for the law to be reformed, arguing that people have used the law for political purposes, to discredit and sideline opponents.

However, the mere mention of adapting the law is contentious and has often prompted accusations of republicanism and disloyalty to the palace.

Darunee was sentenced to 18 years in prison in December 2009 for the offences, but the judge later ordered a retrial, saying the first hearing had been unlawful as it been held behind closed doors for reasons of "national security".

Darunee said she had no plans to lodge an appeal.

"What's done is done," she told reporters before being taken to prison. "It was the final say."

Analysts and rights groups point to a staggering rise in the number of cases since the 2006 coup as a sign the law has become deeply politicised.

(Reporting by Chatrudee Kittisuksatit; Writing by Natnicha Chuwiruch; Editing by Martin Petty)

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