Most open-source photos of King Maha Vajiralongkorn have disappeared from the internet since his coronation. Source: Flickr
A court in Thailand has agreed to put a prominent activist on trial for insulting the king after he shared a BBC Thai-language profile of the new monarch on Facebook.
It was the first case brought to court under the rule of King Maha Vajiralongkorn under the strict lese-majeste law, which threatens prison sentences of up to 15 years for each offence of defaming, insulting or threatening the royal family. Article 112 of the Thai criminal code says “anyone who defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir-apparent or the regent” could face 15 years in prison. The lese-majeste law has remained almost unchanged since 1908, partly because the monarchy offers stability to a country that has experienced 12 successful coups since 1932.
Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, 25, who has held rallies against the Thai junta, was arrested two days after the king ascended the throne in December.
The court in Khon Kaen, in the northeastern heartland of the Shinawatra political movement that was deposed in the 2014 coup, agreed to put the activist on trial, said Atipong Poopiw, Jatupat’s lawyer.
Jatupat is accused of violating cyber crime laws for sharing the link. He has been denied bail.
Around 2,400 other internet users shared the link but Jatupat is reportedly the only one facing prosecution.
The BBC article described the new king as a “womaniser” and into “gambling” and said that he struggled at school. The article said his mother described him as “a bit of a Don Juan” in 1981 and suggested that he preferred to spend his weekends with women rather than his performing duties.
The article led to a probe into the BBC’s Bangkok operation. The Guardian reported that the police found no one at the office job and stole a delivery of Yakult “milk” at the door.
Lese-majeste prosecutions have increased further after the death of former king Bhumibol Adulyadej in October.
The government says the lese-majeste is compatible with international human rights law.
Jatupat’s prosecution was another example of the law being used to target dissidents, said Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch.
“Constant attacks against [Jatupat] reflects how Thailand does not heed international concerns and criticism,” the senior researcher from the New York-based NGO told Reuters.
In 2015, two people received jail sentences of 25 and 30 years for Facebook posts deemed insulting to the royal family.