Singer Tom Dundee gets 7 years, 6 months for lese majeste

Singer Tom Dundee gets 7 years, 6 months for lese majeste

Red shirt-aligned singer and actor Thanat Thanawatcharanont (centre) is escorted by police officers as he arrives at the Criminal Court on a charge of lese majeste in Bangkok June 1. (EPA photo)
Red shirt-aligned singer and actor Thanat Thanawatcharanont (centre) is escorted by police officers as he arrives at the Criminal Court on a charge of lese majeste in Bangkok June 1. (EPA photo)

The Criminal Court on Wednesday sentenced a red shirt-aligned country singer and actor to 7 years and 6 months in prison for insulting the monarchy in a public speech made three years ago.

Thanat Thanawatcharanon, known by his stage name of Tom Dundee, gave waiting media the thumbs-up as he arrived at court on Wednesday, wearing an orange prison uniform.

"The sentence is much longer than we expected," his lawyer, Saovalux Po-Ngam, said after the hearing.  "We can lodge an appeal within a month but have to discuss first whether we will. In my personal view, the law should be scrapped because the sentences are too long."

The judge in the case, who refused to read the full ruling aloud, saying the prosecuted comments were rude and harsh, said he would have given Thanat a longer sentence, but was advised on the shorter term by the court's deputy president.

"Five years for each count is certainly not a light sentence, but it isn't a severe one either," the judge said.

Sentences for royal insults have become increasingly harsh under the junta, and one offender was jailed for a record 30 years in 2015.

Thanat, who has been in prison since his arrest in 2014, previously had denied the charges, but confessed in a sudden about-face in court on Monday.

The courtroom was filled with red-shirt sympathisers, entertainer Yotwarit "Jeng Dokjik" Chuklom, members of the Internet Law Reform Dialogue, and former lese majeste convicts including Aekachai Hongkangwan, currently a staff member at the For Friends Association.

Thanat conceded that the lengthy sentence was unexpected but said he would still confess when he appears at the military court on the same charge on June 21.

"I have to understand and embrace it. Imagine if I hadn't confessed here how much more would I have received," he said.

Confessing to a lese majeste crime is routine practice, where the accused often plead guilty in hope of a more lenient sentence.

Prosecutors said Thanat made defamatory comments about the monarchy during a 2013 speech to red-shirt activists at a political rally in the capital. His remarks were uploaded in YouTube and remained there until April 26, 2014.

He was arrested and charged in July that year, following pressure by an ultra-royalist group on the Department of Special Investigation to prosecute him.


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