A Thai citizen was sentenced on Friday to 10 years in prison on charges of insulting the king and his family by posting edited photos of the monarchy on the Internet, a court said.
Suwicha Thakho, 34, a former oil worker, was detained in January and admitted to altering the photos of revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his family, the Bangkok Criminal Court said. It did not say how the photos were changed or where they appeared, although local news reports said some appeared on YouTube. The court found Suwicha guilty of violating the country's lese majeste law, which prohibits insulting the king and his family, as well as the 2007 Computer Crime Act, which bars the circulation of material deemed detrimental to national security or that causes public panic.
Reporters Without Borders condemned the sentence and called for Suwicha's immediate release.
"The charge of lese majeste has become a major tool of repression in Thailand," the Paris-based press freedom group said in a statement. "The sentence passed on Suwicha Thakor violates online free expression and is out of all proportion to what he is alleged to have done."
Lese majeste prosecutions used to be rare in Thailand, and the accusation was mostly used for partisan political purposes as a means of smearing opponents.
But in recent months, complaints have been filed against a fledgling Australian novelist, a BBC correspondent, a prominent Buddhist intellectual and an activist who refused to stand during the playing of the Royal Anthem at a movie theater. Thailand is a constitutional monarchy but the tough law mandates a jail term of three to 15 years for "whoever defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the regent." Anyone violating the Computer Crime Act can be imprisoned for up to five years and fined 100,000 baht ($2,770). The Thai government has also blocked several thousand Internet sites that it said were offensive to the monarchy. The stepped-up campaign against those perceived to have criticized the monarchy comes amid a prolonged political crisis in which opposing groups have accused each other of being less loyal to the 81-year-old king, and as the country considers an eventual transfer of the throne to a crown prince who lacks his father's widespread popularity.
Last year, anti-government protesters showed their loyalty to the king by wearing yellow, which represents the day of his birth. They accused former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his allies of trying to usurp the king's central role something Thaksin has denied.