A 20-year prison sentence for sending four text messages deemed offensive to the Queen of Thailand is a blow to freedom of expression, Amnesty International said today.
Amphon Tangnoppaku, 61, was sentenced today to 20 years’ imprisonment, reportedly under the lese majeste law – the crime of insulting certain members of Thailand’s royal family – and the Computer-related Crimes Act.
Amphon was accused of sending four text messages to an aide to the Prime Minister in 2010, but reportedly continues to deny that he did so, claiming that he does not know how to send text messages and did not know who the recipient was.
Under the lese majeste law, it is illegal to even report the content of alleged insults.
"This sentence clearly infringes on freedom of expression,” said Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International’s Thailand researcher. “Amphon is a political prisoner."
Thailand’s lese majeste law prohibits any word or act which “defames, insults, or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent, or the Regent”.
The law overrides the Thai constitution, and according to Benjamin Zawacki, Thailand's lese majeste law, in “its current form and usage place the country in contravention of its international legal obligations.”
Amnesty International has stated that Thailand’s existing lese majeste law violates Thailand's obligation to uphold international standards of freedom of expression.
In particular, there has been a sharp increase in internet monitoring and censorship resulting from regular application of lese majeste together with the 2007 Computer-related Crimes Act.
A retired grandfather with no reported history of political involvement, Amphon was arrested in August 2010 and was held on remand without bail until his trial.