Opposition MP sentenced to jail for lese majeste

Opposition MP sentenced to jail for lese majeste

Move Forward member Rukchanok Srinork granted bail while she appeals conviction and 6-year term

Move Forward Party MP for Bangkok Rukchanok Srinork, right, and MFP leader Chaithawat Tulathon, left, arrive at the Criminal Court on Ratchadaphisek Road on Wednesday morning. (Photo: Nutthawat Wichieanbut)
Move Forward Party MP for Bangkok Rukchanok Srinork, right, and MFP leader Chaithawat Tulathon, left, arrive at the Criminal Court on Ratchadaphisek Road on Wednesday morning. (Photo: Nutthawat Wichieanbut)

The Criminal Court on Wednesday sentenced Move Forward Party MP Rukchanok Srinork to six years in prison, without suspension, for lese majeste and computer crime.

The court subsequently approved her temporary release pending an appeal. Bail was set at 500,000 baht, and the MP must refrain from participating in activities similar to those with which she has been charged.

As a result, Rukchanok will be able to continue serving as an MP. Had she been ordered detained, she would have lost her MP status and a by-election would have had to be called in her Bangkok constituency.

The court convicted Rukchanok, 29, over posts she made about vaccine allocations, with pictures of His Majesty the King, on her Twitter account @nanaicez between July 18 and Aug 9, 2021. She denied all charges.

One post accused the government of using Covid-19 vaccine distribution to promote the monarchy’s image, which the court considered defamation, it said in a statement.

Another was her sharing of graphically worded posts on Twitter, made by two other users, that the court said had displayed “great malice” towards the monarch.

The court said that under police interrogation, Rukchanok did not display any inclination to present evidence to prove her innocence. Such behaviour, it added, was “unusual for general Thai people who have prolonged the culture and attitude of respect for kings that has continued for generations”.

Rukchanok had arrived at the court to hear the ruling accompanied by former Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat, now the party’s chief adviser, and party leader Chaithawat Tulathon, who acted as her lawyer.

Earlier, she had unsuccessfully sought a postponement of the ruling, because Wednesday was the first day of the new House session.

Before going inside, she said she had confidence in her defence.

After hearing the judgement, Rukchanok only smiled as she was taken to a holding cell in the court building to await a decision on her bail application. Mr Chaithawat said he would offer his MP status as surety in seeking her temporary release.

Rukchanok scored one of the most surprising victories in the May 14 general election, winning Bangkok Constituency 28 which includes Bang Bon, the stronghold of the Yubamrung family. She defeated Wan Yubamrung, the son of veteran politician Chalerm Yubamrung, by more than 20,000 votes.

According to data from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) up to Nov 30 this year, 1,935 people have been prosecuted for political participation and expression since the beginning of the Free Youth protests against the military-linked government of Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha in July 2020. At least 262 are facing lese-majeste charges under Section 112 of the Criminal Code, and 135 have been charged with sedition under Section 116.

The pace of lese-majeste prosecutions and convictions has remained unchanged after the change of government since the May election.

One of the most prominent people convicted of lese-majeste and denied bail pending an appeal is human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa. After the courts rejected three petitions for temporary release, he instructed his lawyers to abandon further attempts.

Mr Arnon has been detained at the Bangkok Remand Prison since his sentencing on Sept 26 in connection with a speech he made at a pro-democracy rally in October 2020. He is still facing 13 other charges under Section 112.

In a letter released earlier via THLR, Arnon said bail should be the right of every individual until a case is concluded, adding that the Supreme Court’s rejection of his bail application was not unexpected for a political case and for a political prisoner like him.

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