They are young and well-educated, a pair of committed pro-democracy activists, but their participation in a student play means they will spend the next two and a half years in a Thai prison.
They are young and well-educated, a pair of committed pro-democracy activists, but their participation in a student play means they will spend the next two and a half years in a Thai prison without chance of parole.
Student Patiwat Saraiyaem, 23, and activist Porntip Mankong, 26 were convicted of defaming the Thailand’s monarchy under the country’s draconian lèse-majesté laws. They were arrested last August, nearly a year after a performance of “The Wolf Bride” at Bangkok’s Thammasat University. The play is a satire set in a fictional kingdom.
Mr Saraiyaem and Ms Mankong were originally sentenced to five years in prison but the term was reduced to two years and six months after the pair entered guilty pleas. The judge at Ratchada Criminal Court said, “the court considers their role in the play (to have) caused serious damage to the monarchy and sees no reason to suspend their sentences.”
Thai police are hunting for at least six others involved in the production. At least two are thought to have fled the country.
Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 87, is revered by many in the country as a demi-god and is shielded by a set of legal provisions commonly known as ‘112’ – a feared section of the criminal code carrying up to 15 years in jail for each count of insulting the king, queen, heir or regent
But critics say ‘112’ is used as a tool to suppress political dissent, noting that many of those charged have been linked to the opposition ‘red shirt’ movement.
Civil rights groups add that these legal provisions have a chilling effect on free speech. A taxi driver was recently sentenced to two-and-a-half years after a passenger recorded their conversation on a mobile phone. As a consequence, many here in Thailand are extremely careful about what they say.
Brad Adams, Asia Director for Human Rights Watch, condemned the court’s decision: “The imprisonment of the two ‘Wolf Bride’ play activists is yet another serious blow to freedom of expression in Thailand and another dark mark on Thailand’s already battered international reputation.
“Vowing to protect the monarchy, the (Thai) junta has accelerated efforts to hunt down alleged lèse-majesté actions and statements, and prosecute people for peaceful expression of views, like conducting a play, posting on-line, or making a speech.”