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Citizen sentenced to 20 years for lese majeste text messages

(SEAPA/IFEX) - Bangkok, 23 November 2011 - On 23 November 2011, Ampon Tangnoppakul, also known as Uncle SMS, was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment by Bangkok's Criminal Court for insulting the monarchy.

The 61-year old grandfather stood accused of sending a total of four text messages deemed insulting to the monarchy in May 2010. He was charged under Section 112 of the Thai penal code (or lese majeste law) as well as Section 14 (2) and (3) of the Computer Crimes Act (CCA). The court sentenced him for five years for each message.

Ampon pleaded not guilty to all of the charges against him. In his defense, he testified that the phone that the messages were sent from was at the repair shop during the period the messages were sent, and did not belong to him.

During the sentencing, the judge concluded that Ampon was unable to adequately back up these claims, therefore they did not constitute an adequate defense against the charges.

The Bangkok Remand prison where Ampon is being held is currently isolated by flooding, so the court decided that the sentence would be delivered remotely.

Over thirty people crowded into the court teleconferencing room, including Ampon's wife, children, and grandchildren, as well as local and international human rights observers.

Prior to today's verdict Ampon was denied bail, resulting in a detainment of over eight months during which his health continued to deteriorate.

The verdict, which failed to take into account Ampon's poor state of health, was met with shock and sadness. The judge admitted that the specious electronic evidence against Ampon could not conclusively prove the guilt of the defendant, but made no move to lessen the sentence.

Severe sentences under lese majeste law have become more common in recent years. Both lese majeste and the CCA are currently the subject of criticism and calls for reform from international experts.

Although lese majeste is designed to protect the reputation of Thailand's monarchy, critics claim that its increasingly politicised use poses a serious and ongoing threat to freedom of expression.

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