Prominent Thai human right lawyer Prawet Prapanukul was charged [advocacy report] Wednesday with 10 counts of breaking Article 112 [text] and 3 counts of breaking Article 116 [text] of Thailand’s criminal code for allegedly insulting members of the royal family. If found guilty of all the charges, Prapanukul faces [Asian Correspondent report] up to 171 years in prison. Article 112 prohibits defaming, insulting or threatening members of the royal family and is punishable by 15 years in prison for each violation. Article 116 prohibits speech, writings, or other means designed to instigate a violation of the constitution and is punishable by 7 years in prison for each violation. It is currently not clear what Prapanukul said or wrote which led to his arrest and array of charges, which is the largest number of charges an individual has received in recent years. Prapanukul has advocated against Thailand’s royalty protection [BBC backgrounder] laws in the past when he provided legal assistance to the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship [BBC backgrounder] and served as legal counsel for Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul, who was convicted of violating Thailand’s laws against insulting the royal family.
Thailand’s enforcement of lese majeste laws and stifling of free speech has become increasingly prevalent in the past few years. In February the Supreme Court of Thailand upheld [JURIST report] the sentence of a former magazine editor who published stories criticizing the royal family under the lese majeste laws. Earlier in February human rights groups urged the Thai Army to drop defamation charges [JURIST report] against three activists. Prior to that, UN Special Rapporteur David Kaye called on [JURIST report] Thai authorities Tuesday to cease using royal defamation laws to counter free speech that is critical of the royal family. In December the Thailand Parliament passed [JURIST report] a controversial cyber-crimes bill that gave the government the right to obtain user data without court approval, which rights groups feared would give the government unrestricted power to police the web and suppress criticism. In September Thailand’s Bangkok South Criminal Court found [JURIST report] British labor rights activist Andy Hall guilty of criminal defamation and violating cyber crime laws.About a week earlier the same month Thailand’s military government announced [JURIST report] that it will prosecute cases concerning national security and “royal insult” in civilian courts, as opposed to military courts where the cases have been tried since 2014.