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Thailand court sentences political activist to 18 years for royal defamation

[JURIST] A Thai criminal court has sentenced political activist Darunee Charnchoengsilpakul [advocacy website] to 18 years in prison for insulting the royal family. Darunee was convicted [The Nation report] last Friday on charges of violating Thailand's lese majeste [UPI backgrounder] law, which prohibits defaming, insulting, or threatening "King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent, or the Regent." Darunee was accused of denouncing the royal family during a July 2008 speech while speaking at a political rally for the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) party of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Darunee's lawyer says he plans an appeal [Bangkok Post report].

In June, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] called for a public trial [JURIST report] for Darunee after Judge Prommat Toosang on ordered [Reuters report] that the trial be closed for national security reasons. AI's Asia-Pacific director Sam Zarifi noted that although the closure of trials is legitimate under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) [text] and the Thai Constitution [text, in Thai], the government "will have a very difficult time explaining why the trial of someone charged with making an insulting remark could compromise Thailand's national security." Zafiri said that Prommat's guarantee of a fair trial was inadequate and "simply not verifiable" unless the trial is conducted in public. Thaksin was removed from power in 2006 by a military coup and was later as convicted on corruption charges [JURIST reports] by the Supreme Court of Thailand.

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