BANGKOK (Reuters) - A Thai military court on Tuesday sentenced ten people to up to five years in prison over audio and video recordings deemed insulting to the monarchy, the latest convictions in a series of cases brought since a coup more than a year ago.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the army chief who seized power in a coup in May last year, has repeatedly vowed to vigorously enforce lese-majeste laws, that are the toughest in the world, and try anyone perceived to be anti-monarchist.
The ten were accused of distributing hundreds of video and audio clips, many on the internet and via the Facebook page of an alleged anti-monarchy group, the so-called “Banpodj” network.
Police say the clips contained content defaming the monarchy but have not explicitly discussed their content.
The crackdown comes amid widespread concerns over what will happen in the country once the reign of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the revered, ailing 87-year-old monarch comes to an end.
The number of people sentenced on Tuesday was the highest in one court session since the junta took power.
The four women and six men were charged earlier this year under Section 112 of Thailand’s criminal code which says anyone who “defames, insults or threatens the king, queen, the heir-apparent or the regent” will be punished with up to 15 years in prison for each offence committed.
The group were also prosecuted under the Computer Crimes Act, which came into force in Thailand in 2007. Under the act, each offence carries a sentence of up to five years in jail.
“The group produced more than 400 video and audio clips since 2009 that are considered defamatory and insult or threaten the king, queen or heir apparent and are a threat to national security,” a judge said in passing sentence.
Eight of the group were sentenced to 10 years in jail. Another two were sentenced to six years.
But their sentences were halved because they confessed to the crimes, the judge said.
Since the coup, 51 people have been charged with lese-majeste, according to iLaw, a Bangkok-based group that monitors criminal defamation cases.
In one of the toughest sentences in recent years, a man was jailed for 25 years in March for posting pictures on his Facebook page deemed insulting to Thailand’s monarchy.
Under the ruling junta, which calls itself the National Council for Peace and Order, cases deemed a threat to national security are tried in military tribunals.
Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore