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Activist jailed for 18 years for insulting monarchy

Activist Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul was sentenced to 18 years in jail in August for remarks that she made criticising the 2006 coup
Activist Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul was sentenced to 18 years in jail in August for remarks that she made criticising the 2006 coup

An opposition activist in Thailand was sentenced to 18 years in jail last week for insulting the monarchy, report the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) and international news media.

On 28 August Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul was convicted on three counts of lese majeste, each carrying a six-year jail term, for remarks that she made in speeches last year criticising the 2006 coup that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The speeches were made at rallies of the "Red Shirts", the name given to Thaksin supporters who believe the current government led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is illegitimate, and who call for Thaksin to be reinstated.

Authorities have also blocked excerpts of Daranee's speeches on YouTube, which had been the basis for the complaints filed against her, says SEAPA.

The judge hearing Daranee's case closed the court to the public and the media last month, citing national security concerns. And because Daranee showed no remorse, the court found no cause for leniency, reports SEAPA.

"It is what I expected to happen," Daranee told reporters after the verdict. "I will appeal."

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

The decision to fight the charges is unusual. According to news reports, human rights lawyers say the charges are difficult to beat in a nation known for its intense loyalty to the Royal Family, and most defendants choose to plead guilty and beg the King for mercy.

Several people have been charged with lese majeste in recent years, such as a Thai engineer who got 10 years for sending online pictures that offended the Royal Family, and former BBC correspondent Jonathan Head, who presided over a public debate.

Police are investigating the entire board of the Thailand Foreign Correspondents' Club for possible breaches of the laws, say SEAPA and news reports.

Under current rules, anybody can file a complaint of lese majeste, which has led to many Thai politicians using the laws as a tool to silence their rivals.

According to SEAPA, lese majeste charges have surged since the 2006 coup, and are punishable by up to 15 years in jail.

Earlier this year Abhisit said he would look into ensuring the laws were not abused but little progress has been made.

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