EU concern at Thailand lese majeste jail term

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, pictured in Jakarta on 7 May 2011 The texts were sent to an aide of Abhisit Vejjajiva, the former Thai prime minister

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The EU has expressed "deep concern" at Thailand's jailing of a 61-year-old man for sending text messages deemed offensive to the royal family.

Europe's delegation in Thailand urged the authorities to make sure they upheld the rule of law.

Ampon Tangnoppakul was convicted of sending four messages last year to an official working for then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

He denies the claims and says he does not know how to send a text.

The conviction sparked outrage among rights groups, with Amnesty International describing Ampon as a political prisoner.

The EU said in a statement that it wanted to reiterate the importance of "the rule of law, democracy and the respect for human rights".

"The EU urges the Thai authorities to ensure that the rule of law is applied in a non-discriminatory and proportional manner consistent with upholding basic human rights, including freedom of expression," the statement said.

Ampon was charged under the Computer Crimes Act and lese majeste law, which is designed to protect the monarchy.

Critics say both laws have been increasingly politicised and are curbing free speech in Thailand.

There have been widespread allegations that the law is being misused to settles scores and silence debate.

A number of foreigners have been convicted of the offence in recent years, but they are often quickly pardoned and deported from the country.

Some Thai academics and writers have fled the country for fear of being denounced.

In an ongoing high-profile case, the webmaster of a liberal news website is currently on trial accused of failing to remove allegedly offensive comments posted by readers quickly enough.

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