Thailand lese majeste man jailed for 20 years

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, pictured in Jakarta on 7 May 2011
Image caption The texts were sent to an aide of Abhisit Vejjajiva

A man who sent text messages deemed insulting to Thailand's monarchy has been jailed for 20 years.

Ampon Tangnoppakul, 61, was convicted of sending four messages last year to an official working for then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

He 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.

Ampon was not in court to hear the sentence delivered because recent floods, which have caused widespread disruption in Thailand, stopped him from travelling from his remand prison.

Instead he watched his conviction by video link.

Ampon was convicted of sending the text messages during anti-government street protests that convulsed the capital last year.

He was jailed for five years for each message.

Foreigners convicted

Thailand's criminal code defines lese majeste as defaming, insulting or threatening the king, queen, heir-apparent or regent.

Offenders can receive 15 years in jail for each offence.

In recent years the law has been used far more frequently and far more widely than in the past.

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

Several 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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