Thai MP convicted for posts insulting the monarchy

Rukchanok "Ice" Srinork
Image caption,The 28-year-old was found guilty by a Bangkok court for two posts made before she joined the party

By Jonathan Head

BBC News, Bangkok

A Thai MP has been sentenced to six years in jail under the country’s harsh lese-majeste laws.

Rukchanok “Ice” Srinork, 28, had pleaded not guilty to posting tweets critical of the monarchy.

She has since been released on bail worth $14,000 (£11,180) pending an appeal, on the condition that she must not repeat the offence.

Ice’s Move Forward party, which won this year’s election, had urged reform of the lese-majeste laws.

But the unelected senate used this as the main reason for blocking the party’s attempt to form a government.

Opposition to the lese-majeste laws was one of the issues which sparked mass protests in 2020, lasting several months. According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, around 260 charges have been filed under the lese-majeste law since 2020. Some 2,000 people have been prosecuted under a variety of laws for their involvement in the protests.

Just earlier this week, a 26-year-old man was given a prison sentence just for shouting at a passing royal motorcade about a burden imposed on society. He has been released on bail.

On Wednesday, Ice was found guilty of insulting the monarch by a Bangkok court for two posts made before she joined Move Forward – in the first, she criticised the country’s handling of the pandemic, and the second was a repost of a tweet that was said to be critical of the monarchy.

Ice will lose her seat if she eventually goes to jail.

Hers was perhaps the most dramatic of many shock victories by the young Move Forward candidates in the May general election – she won her seat in Bang Bon, a constituency near Bangkok which had been the fiefdom of one of Thailand’s most powerful political clans for decades, after a no-frills campaign largely on a bicycle.

She was given the nickname of “giant-killer” by a Thai media outlet, for taking the seat from a political heavyweight.

Move Forward's leader Pita Pita Limjaroenrat
Image caption,Move Forward’s leader Pita Pita Limjaroenrat was unsuccessful in his bid to become prime minister

Several other leading figures in the Move Forward party are also facing lese-majeste charges – many of whom were activists who took part in the 2020 protests.

Those protests were ignited by a controversial court decision in February 2020 which dissolved Future Forward, the previous incarnation of Move Forward and the first party to campaign on a programme of sweeping reform of Thailand’s institutions.

Future Forward had done unexpectedly well in the 2019 election, mainly on the back of enthusiastic support from younger voters. This year, Move Forward stunned Thailand’s establishment by doing even better, winning more seats than any other party thanks to victories like the one Ice won in Bang Bon.

After King Vajiralongkorn succeeded his father in 2016, use of the lese-majeste law was suspended for around two years, apparently at the monarch’s request.

But the boldness of the 2020 protesters in demanding royal reform prompted the authorities to start using the law again, more extensively than at any other time in Thailand’s history.

The lese-majeste law is notoriously broad, which makes mounting a legal defence very difficult.

It is regarded officially as a national security law, and it is extremely rare for judges to acquit defendants. Often the trials are held behind closed doors, with no independent observers. There is also huge pressure on defendants to plead guilty, regardless of the strength of the case against them – conviction is almost certain, and judges routinely halve the sentences of those who plead guilty.

Trials in Thailand often take many years to conclude, which means the lives of the young activists facing lese-majeste and many other charges in relation to the 2020 protests will be consumed for the foreseeable future by incessant court hearings.

This form of “judicial attrition” has proved very effective at snuffing out the protest movement. Protest leaders, some of whom face dozens of charges, simply have no time now to organise.

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