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Thai man sentenced to prison on lèse majesté charges

On 28 March 2013, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) deplored the sentence handed down by a court in Thailand to a citizen under the country's lèse majesté laws, for handling press material which the authorities considered insulting to the monarchy.

Reports from the Thai capital Bangkok indicate that Eakachai Hongkangwan, a private citizen, has been sentenced to a prison term of three years and four months, for selling videos of a documentary on the Thai monarchy, produced and broadcast in 2010 by the Australian public service channel, ABC.

The program was not shown in Thailand and remains unavailable through the internet for residents of the country.

Hongkangwan is also accused of having distributed copies of two cables pertaining to the Thai monarchy which were secured from classified sources and published on the citizen journalism website, WikiLeaks.

Prosecutions under Thailand's lèse majesté laws have risen several times in numbers since about 2005. Some observers have put this down to a backlash from the public exhortation by the country's highly respected monarch in 2005, that all people should be free to criticise him.

Others believe that this spike in prosecutions is on account of rising discord in Thai politics between the traditional power elite and supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra, twice elected Prime Minister but deposed in a military coup in 2006 and subsequently, for the most part, living in exile.

The IFJ calls on the authorities in Thailand to use every legal avenue to rescind the sentence against Hongkangwan and drop charges against him.

"We believe that the lèse majesté laws in Thailand have long outlived their relevance and their abolition will only contribute towards a public climate of greater civility," said Beth Costa, IFJ General Secretary.

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