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"Uncle SMS" dies after serving 3 months of his 20-year prison sentence

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - Bangkok, 10 May 2012: Amphon Tangnoppaku, also known as Ar Kong or 'Uncle SMS', died in prison whilst serving a 20-year prison sentence for sending four text messages deemed as insulting against the Queen of Thailand. This was the heaviest sentence ever handed down for a lèse-majesté case. Amphon, a retired grandfather with no reported history of political activism, was only three months into serving his sentence when he died. The exact cause of his death is still unknown, however his lawyer reports that Amphon was complaining of stomach pains late last week. Amphon requested bail on multiple occasions, referring to his laryngeal cancer, but all requests were rejected with the court stating that his illness did not appear life threatening.

"ARTICLE 19 is incredibly saddened over the death of Amphon, and we send our deepest condolences to his family," says Dr Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director. "Amphon's case lacked reliable or compelling legal evidence, which provides further demonstration that the lèse-majesté law is both morally and legally undefendable and must be repealed."

Amphon was convicted for violating both the lèse-majesté law (Article 112 of the Penal Code) and the 2007 Computer Crimes Act, but was sentenced under the lèse-majesté law which allows for heavier penalties. Amphon was to serve, consecutively, five years for each text message. The Thai criminal court had proceeded to find Amphon guilty despite admitting that the technical evaluation of evidence could not conclusively incriminate him.

During Thailand's human rights review before the United Nations Human Rights Council in October 2011, a number of countries including France and Norway, publicly stated that the lèse-majesté law, by its very existence, constitutes a threat to legitimate political expression and freedom of expression. Many other nations including Indonesia and Brazil expressed concerns and recommended reform of the laws.

ARTICLE 19 is calling for an independent and transparent investigation into the exact causes of Ar Kong's death and responsibilities regarding medical care. The organisation is also continuing to call for the lèse-majesté law to be repealed and for the Computer Crimes Act to be brought in accordance with the Thai constitution and international standards.

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