Thai Journalist and Human Rights Activist Sentenced to 10 Years for Defaming the King

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A Thai activist wears a face mask carrying a message reading 'Free Somyot' as she joins a protest outside the Criminal Court in Bangkok on January 25, 2013.      (Photo credit:  CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP/Getty Images)

A Thai activist joins a protest against the sentencing of journalist and human rights defender Somyot Prueksakasemsuk outside the Criminal Court in Bangkok on January 25, 2013. (Photo credit: CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP/Getty Images)

Imagine sitting down in a theater to watch the latest blockbuster, only to be asked to stand up before the film starts. So revered is the King in Thailand that movie-goers must stand while the royal anthem plays prior to every movie screening there, as a reel pays homage to the king.

Playing on this reverence to the king is the lèse majesté  law,enacted in the country’s criminal code. Article 112 states that “whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished (with) imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” The law is also used as a means to suppress freedom of speech in Thailand. Since the coup and military ouster of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006, authorities are using lèse majesté to prosecute an increasing number of anti-government activists.

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