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Thai man sentenced for royal insult

A Thai court on Thursday sentenced 37-year-old Akachai Hongkangwan to three years and four months in prison for violating Thailand's lese majeste law. The lese majeste law found in Article 112 of Thailand's Penal Code [text] allows for anyone who "defames, insults or threatens" a member of the royal family to be sentenced to a prison term of three to 15 years. Hongkangwan was arrested on March 10, 2011, at an anti-government demonstration held in Bangkok where he was selling video CDs that were deemed defamatory to Thailand's royal family. He was released nine days later on bail. The videos were a potion of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Foreign Correspondent [media website] 2010 series containing private footage of Thai Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. Hongkangwan was also convicted [AP report] of violating copyright law and was fined $66,666 baht (USD $2,271).

Thailand's lese majeste [JURIST report] law has generated controversy. Magazine editor and political activist Somyot Pruksakasemusk was sentenced [JURIST report] to 11 years in January under the lese majeste law for negatively mentioning the monarchy in two articles he published. Following Pruksakasemusk's conviction the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) [official website] submitted a statement [text] to the UN Human Rights Council. "The logic underlying the use of article 112 frequently cited by the Court is the uniqueness of Thailand as a nation with the king as the head of state. This decision speaks manifestly to an imbalance in the law of Thailand as written and currently enforced between protecting the sovereign and protecting the human rights of the people residing in the country." The ALRC urged the Human Rights Council to release Pruksakasemsuk and other individuals convicted under Article 112. In July Thai-born US citizen Joe Gordon was released [JURIST report] from a Thai prison and pardoned by the Thai monarch for defaming the Thai royal family. UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression Frank La Rue condemned [JURIST report] the law, stating, "[t]he threat of a long prison sentence and vagueness of what kinds of expression constitute defamation, insult, or threat to the monarchy, encourage self-censorship and stifle important debates on matters of public interest, thus putting in jeopardy the right to freedom of opinion and expression."

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