Arnon Nampa, a prominent activist and lawyer who made headlines by openly calling for reform of the monarchy, was sentenced on Tuesday to four years in prison for royal insults, a judge and his lawyer said.
The human rights lawyer is widely known for his taboo-breaking speech during pro-democracy protests in 2020 during which he called for public debate on the role of His Majesty the King. Mr Arnon, 39, had denied wrongdoing.
The Criminal Court on Tuesday afternoon denied Mr Arnon’s request for bail while he appeals. His lawyer is now petitioning the Court of Appeal and a decision is expected in two or three days.
In the meantime, Mr Arnon will be detained at the Bangkok Remand Prison.
Section 112 of the Criminal Code, the lese-majeste law, carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years for each perceived insult of the monarchy.
The judgement handed down on Tuesday was the first of 14 lese-majeste cases against Mr Arnon, one of hundreds of people who have been charged under the law since its use was revived in response to youth-led protests in 2020.
Mr Arnon was also found guilty of breaching the emergency rules imposed in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak but was acquitted of seven other charges, said his lawyer, Krisadang Nutcharus.
Mr Arnon was a leader in the youth-led pro-democracy movement that swept Bangkok in 2020, drawing tens of thousands into the streets on some occasions.
Protesters had called for former prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to step down after he came to power in a coup on May 22, 2014, and for reforming the monarchy and abolishing Section 112.
According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, an independent legal aid group, at least 253 people, including 20 under the age of 18, were charged with lese-majeste between May 2020 and the end of July 2023. Another 130 have been charged with sedition under Section 116.
The opposition Move Forward Party (MFP), which won the largest number of seats in the May 14 general election, was the only mainstream party to call for changes to Section 112. Pita Limjaroenrat, the party’s prime ministerial candidate, was blocked by the unelected Senate and political parties that oppose any changes to the law.
Speaking to reporters as he arrived at court on Tuesday, Mr Arnon acknowledged he would likely lose his freedom and said he had no regrets for what was “a worthwhile personal sacrifice for the greater good”.
“The youth protest has created a phenomenon that has changed Thailand to the point of no return,” he said.
“I believe that the people are becoming more confident in their freedom and equality and are ready to transform the country to be more progressive.”