WASHINGTON - The United States said on Wednesday it was "deeply concerned" by long prison terms handed down by military courts in Thailand for two people convicted of insulting the monarchy.
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that while the United States had "utmost respect for the Thai monarchy," it was "deeply concerned" by the sentences. "No one should be jailed for peacefully expressing their views," he said in a statement.
"We regularly urge Thai authorities, both privately and publicly, to ensure that freedom of expression is not criminalised and is protected in accordance with Thailand's international obligations and commitments."
On Tuesday, the United Nations denounced the "shockingly" long prison terms and urged authorities to amend the law and release those convicted.
The United States is a long-time ally of Thailand but relations have deteriorated since a military coup in May last year, with Washington freezing aid and cancelling some security cooperation in response.
The immediate reaction referred to court actions last Friday. A 48-year-old man and a 29-year-old woman were sentenced to 30 years and 28 years in jail, respectively, for posts on Facebook. The sentences were the heaviest sentences for the crime in the country's history, lawyers and a legal monitoring group said.
Pongsak Sriboonpeng was initially given a sentence of 60 years for six Facebook posts between 2013 and 2014 but this was reduced due to his guilty plea. Sasivimol Patomwongfa-ngarm saw her 56-year term halved for pleading guilty to seven Facebook posts insulting the royals, the UN said.
The full text of Mr Toner's statement:
We are deeply concerned about the lengthy prison sentences handed down by Thai military court against two people for violating Thailand lese-majeste law.
No one should be jailed for peacefully expressing their views.
We regularly urge Thai authorities both privately and publicly to ensure that freedom of expression is not criminalized and is protected in accordance to Thailand international obligations and commitments.
And also I would say that the United States has the utmost respect of the Thai monarchy.