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Court in Thailand rules sticker on portrait defamed king

March 4, 2022 GMT

BANGKOK (AP) — A court in Thailand sentenced a political activist to two years in prison on Friday for violating a law against defaming the monarchy by affixing a sticker on a portrait of the country’s king.

The conviction for lese majeste appeared to be the first among scores of cases filed against protesters since the government revived prosecutions under the law in November 2020. Since then, it has charged at least 173 people with violating it, said Krisadang Nutcharas of the legal aid group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

Narin Kulpongsathron was accused of putting a sticker on a portrait of King Maha Vajiralongkorn in front of the Supreme Court on Sept. 19, 2020, the anniversary of a military coup that ousted the elected government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The sticker had no obvious political significance, but parodied the logo of the popular Yakult yogurt drink. Narin has been accused of hosting a Facebook page that included political content.

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Anyone who insults or defames key members of the royal family, including the king, queen, heir apparent or regent, can be punished by up to 15 years in prison on each count under the law.

The increased application of the law, prosecuted infrequently 20 years ago, began in response to a youth-led protest movement seeking political change.

The movement demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who took power in 2014 by staging a coup as army commander; amendment of the constitution to make it more democratic; and reform of the monarchy to make it more accountable.

The movement lost momentum as the coronavirus upended Thai society and the authorities repeatedly arrested its leaders, several of whom face multiple counts of lese majeste.

Bangkok’s Criminal Court gave Narin, 31, a three-year sentence, but reduced it to two years in consideration of his cooperative testimony. He denied the charge against him.

The court also granted Narin’s release on 100,000 baht ($3,055) bail to allow him to appeal, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

The legal aid group had challenged whether Narin’s action constituted lese majeste. It said the court’s interpretation was too broad, and anyone writing on banknotes or even a calendar with the king’s picture on it could be considered in violation of the law.

Some guidebooks for foreign tourists have long warned against defacing or stepping on banknotes with images of the king.

Many Thais revere the monarchy, and the military, a major power in Thai society, considers its defense a key priority. Even criticism of the lese majeste law is considered possibly illegal.