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Top Thai protest leader jailed on royal insult charges

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By Pitcha Dangprasith and Rose Troup Buchanan

Bangkok, Thailand — A Thai court on Tuesday jailed one of the leading figures in the kingdom’s youth-led pro-democracy protest movement for four years on royal insult charges.

Thailand has some of the world’s strictest royal defamation laws, which shield King Maha Vajiralongkorn and his close family from criticism and which critics say have been weaponised to silence dissent.

Anon Numpa, a 39-year-old human rights lawyer and activist, was convicted on Tuesday at Bangkok Criminal Court over a speech he made during the protests in 2020.

At their peak the demonstrations drew tens of thousands to the streets, with some making unprecedented calls for reforms to the monarchy, and for changes to the lese-majeste law, which carries a 15-year prison sentence.

Tuesday’s case was first of 14 lese-majeste charges against Anon.

“Loss of personal freedom is a sacrifice I’m willing to make,” Anon told reporters as he entered the court with his partner and their baby, ahead of the sentence.

He raised a three-finger salute as he walked in — a symbol adapted from the “Hunger Games” films that became synonymous with the demonstrations.

“We’ve come a long way and we’ve seen lots of changes in the Thai political scene since the movement back in 2020,” he said.

“If I get sentenced to prison today, it might be many years but it will be worth it.”

The court also fined him 20,000 baht ($550) for violating an emergency decree in effect at the time.

Following the verdict, his lawyer Krisadang Nutcharas described Anon as an “innocent man” and said they would probably appeal.

“The family and friends are trying to submit bail for a temporary release,” he told reporters outside court.

Anon is one of more than 150 activists who have been charged under lese-majeste laws, often referred to as “112” after the relevant section of the criminal code.

Ahead of the hearing, dozens of young political activists — many wearing shirts emblazoned with “No 112” — waited to show support.

‘A dark day’

Andrea Giorgetta of the International Federation for Human Rights told AFP the jail time was “severe”, describing it as “a long prison sentence for exercising your rights”.

“It is certainly a dark day for justice,” he said outside court.

He said the conviction rate under 112 remained close to 100 percent.

“The only question remains how many years you will get, and whether the court will decide if you can be awarded bail.”

Chanatip Tatiyakaroonwong, Amnesty International’s regional researcher for Thailand, also condemned the verdict.

“Today’s conviction is yet another indicator that Thailand’s space for freedom of expression is vanishing,” he told AFP.

Chanatip said more than 1,800 people had faced broad criminal charges since the demonstrations.

“These charges are the shameful legacy of Thailand’s previous administration that has yet to be remedied by the new government.”

In a general election in May, the progressive Move Forward Party (MFP) won the most seats partly on a promise to reform lese-majeste laws.

But MFP was shut out of government by conservative pro-royalist forces in the Senate.

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