Thai court sentences "grandpa" to 20 years for insulting monarchy
Nov 23, 2011, 7:51 GMT
Bangkok - The Bangkok Criminal Court on Wednesday sentenced a 61-year-old man to 20 years in jail for violating lese-majesty and computer laws.
The court found Ampon Tangnoppakul, nicknamed 'grandpa' and 'Uncle SMS' by the local press, guilty of sending messages insulting the monarchy to the mobile phone of the secretary of former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva last year during anti-government protests.
The verdict was read over a video conference link to the Bangkok Ramand Prison where Ampon has been held since his arrest in August 2010. He could not attend the trial in person because floods have surrounded the prison.
Ampon was found guilty of sending three offensive messages, and sentenced to five years in jail for each. He was also convicted of violating the Computer Act by spreading false information via technology, for which he received five more years.
Ampon pleaded not guilty to all charges, claiming he did not know how to send SMS messages.
The prosecution presented evidence that traced the messages to a SIM card used in Ampon's mobile phone.
There has been a dramatic increase in lese-majesty cases in Thai courts since the September 2006 coup toppled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, whose populist policies during six years in power won him a strong following among urban and rural poor.
His downfall deeply divided society into pro- and anti-Thaksin camps, giving rise to unprecedented criticisms of the monarchy, military and bureaucracy.
There have been 397 lese-majesty cases in the lower courts since 2006, a 1,500-per-cent increase from the preriod between 1990 and 2005, according to David Streckfuss, author of a book on the law.
Most of the people found guilty of committing lese-majesty in Thailand in the past have been freed under royal amnesties.
The next amnesty is scheduled to mark the 84th birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej on December 5.