02/23/2015, 00.00
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Bangkok: Student actors jailed for treason after skit on monarchy

Patiwat Saraiyaem, 23, and his 26 year old companion Pornthip Munkong were arrested and charged. They have been sentenced to two years and six months, but had their sentence reduced because they pleaded guilty. The laws on treason used by the military junta to suppress dissent.

Bangkok (AsiaNews / Agencies) - This morning a Thai court sentenced a young couple to two years and six months in jail for "causing damage to the monarchy." Patiwat Saraiyaem, 23, and his 26 year old companion Pornthip Munkong were found guilty of violating the strict rules on treason, which protect the members of the royal family from insults and injuries.

The play in question was performed by the two young university students, entitled "The bride of the wolf", told the story of an imaginary monarch and his adviser; it was represented at the University of Thammasat Bangkok, in October 2013, to mark the 1973 student revolt against the dictatorship, which was violently repressed.

According to the student's lawyer the couple do not intend to appeal and are ready to serve the sentence imposed by the court.

Laws against lese majeste in Thailand are among the toughest in the world. However, critics say they are being exploited by the military junta in power to suppress dissent and rule the country with an iron fist. If convicted, a person could spend up to 15 years in prison. The judge reduced the sentence for the students - from five to two and a half years - because they pleaded guilty.

The full details have not been widely reported because under the laws media coverage which repeat details of the offence is considered the same as the original statement, in fact, any newspaper articles or reports that republish the insults to the monarchy may themselves be prosecuted under the Criminal Code.

The police are looking for six other people involved in the play in various ways, also for violating Article 112 of the code, that refers to "treason". Among these, two have already left Thailand joining the large group of intellectuals, activists and political opponents opposed to the coup, who have fled into exile to avoid ending up in jail.

Activists and pro-human rights organizations report an increase in cases of defamation against the monarchy and ruling powers since the military assumed government last May, in a bloodless coup.

There are at least 15 cases of persons indicted for insulting the monarchy and 90 investigations currently ongoing, many of which will end in court (and conviction).

Those already convicted include a taxi driver - who reportedly offended the monarchy in a conversation with a passenger, his words were recorded by the passenger - and a student, who wrote a defamatory post on Facebook.

Although the 87 year old Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, is venerated by many citizens as a semi-god, there is a (silent) minority that considers the monarchy corrupt and degraded, especially the king's children and wider family. He has held the throne for a record 60 years, making him the longest reigning monarch in the world.


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