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Activist gets 18-year prison term for lese majeste

(SEAPA/IFEX) - A political activist identified with the camp of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was sentenced to a total of 18 years' imprisonment after the Thai Criminal Court found her guilty of lese majeste, Thai media reports said.

According to "The Nation", an English-language daily, Daranee Chancheonsilapakul, a.k.a. "Da Torpedo", 46 years old, was convicted based on a series of "inflammatory speeches" she had delivered at a Red Shirt rally in Sanam Luang.

Daranee was accused of uttering remarks deemed offensive to the monarchy, hence violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code.

Authorities have blocked on Youtube excerpts of Darunee's speech which had been the basis for the complaints filed against her.

She was convicted of three counts of lese majeste, each carrying a six-year prison term.

"The Nation" reported that because the defendant showed no remorse, the court found no cause for leniency.

Arrested on 22 July 2008, Daranee has been denied bail three times despite her lawyers' pleas and despite contentions that her health may be deteriorating.

Citing "national security" concerns, the judge hearing Daranee's case ordered that the trial be closed off from the public.

Lese majeste is a sensitive topic in Thailand. Under current rules, anybody can file a complaint of lese majeste before the police against anybody else, leading critics to say that the law can be easily abused.

Lese majeste charges have surged since the 2006 coup d'etat that toppled the government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

On the one hand, political camps and observers say that some politicians are deliberately trying to provoke each other's hands with supposedly deliberate incendiary rhetoric. On the other hand, rival political camps have used lese majeste charges in their political infightings at the expense of free expression.

The provision for lese majeste, which falls under the Thai Criminal Code, bans any malicious remark against the King, the Queen, the heirs and the Regent. An offense of this nature is considered a security threat, hence the prison term that can go up to 15 years.

The law implicitly allows academic discussions on the role of the monarchy in society.

Free expression advocacy groups have raised concerns that lese majeste may be abused for political reasons.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva earlier said he would look into the enforcement of this law to prevent any abuses.

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