[JURIST] The Bangkok Military Court on Friday sentenced 67-year-old Opas Chansuksai to 18 months in prison for insulting the monarchy under the nation’s lese majeste [BBC backgrounder] laws. Chansuksai was arrested [Reuters report] for insulting King Bhumibol Adulyadej [BBC profile] in bathroom graffitti last October, and later confessed [Bangkok Post report] to the charges. Observers noted that Chansuksai’s sentence is much less than is normally handed out for lese majeste violations. Three brothers of the former Princess of Thailand Srirasmi Suwadee were also convicted [BBC report] under lese majeste laws and sentenced Friday to five-and-a-half years in prison. Suwadee’s parents were also convicted [JURIST report] last week for insulting the royal family. These are just some of the most recent convictions under Thailand’s lese-majeste laws [JURIST new archive], which have been described as the world’s strictest. The criminal code in Thailand allows for very broad interpretation in determining what constitutes an insult, and violating these laws can subject an offender to a maximum prison term of 15 years.
The military took control of the Thai government after a coup last May, overthrowing Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Martial law was instituted on May 20, two days before the coup [JURIST report] that ousted the former Thai government and installed General Prayuth Chan-ocha [BBC profile] as the country’s new prime minister. Since then, political demonstrations have been banned, and hundreds have been arrested for protesting the junta. A group of Thailand human rights activists denounced [JURIST report] and called for an end to the country’s state of martial law in September. The previous month, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] expressed concern [JURIST report] that the prosecution and sentencing of lese majeste cases by Thailand’s ruling military junta threaten citizens’ rights of free expression. Last June a group of independent UN human rights experts urged [press release] Thai authorities to reverse all measures affecting basic human rights and to restore democratic rule in the country. Shortly after the coup last May, the Thai military released several statements [JURIST report] banning meetings of more than five people and imposing nightly curfews