BANGKOK: Thailand on Monday sentenced two people to jail terms of 2-1/2 years for insulting royalty in a university play, amid a campaign by the ruling military junta to stamp out perceived insults to the monarchy.
The country is still under martial law following a May coup and the convictions come at a time of heightened anxiety over the health of the revered but ailing King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 87, and the issue of royal succession.
Thailand’s lese majeste law is the world’s harshest and makes it a crime to defame, insult or threaten the king, queen or heir to the throne or regent.
Patiwat Saraiyaem, 23, and Porntip Mankong, 26, were convicted on one count each of lese-majeste, which can carry a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.
“Both suspects did violate the 112 law and receive a five- year prison sentence … reduced by half,” a judge said in delivering the verdict, referring to the specific portion of the Thai penal code.
The term was cut because both admitted to the charges, the judge added.
Patiwat, a university student, appeared in court shackled in leg irons. There was no sign of protest outside the court.
The pair was arrested last August over a satirical play they put on more than a year earlier at Bangkok’s Thammasat University.
The play, called ‘The Wolf Bride’, marked the 40th anniversary of an October 1973 military crackdown on a pro-democracy student protest at the university. Set in a fictional kingdom, it featured a fictional king and his advisor.
In Thailand, lese majeste complaints can be filed by anyone, against anyone, and are always investigated by police.
Pornthip, an activist who directed the play, told reporters before the verdict that she was not afraid of prison.
“No, I’m not afraid, I learned many things (in prison) dancing, playing music and I made many friends,” she said.
Political protests are banned under martial law, but that has not stopped some university students from staging public protests.
On Sunday, police arrested three people on the streets of Bangkok after they held a gathering to “exchange views” with the junta.