BANGKOK: A Thai court sentenced a man to 28 years in prison for insulting the monarchy in online posts, his lawyer said Thursday.

The kingdom’s lese-majeste laws are among the harshest in the world and rights groups say they are misused to suppress public debate.

A court in the northern city of Chiang Rai found Mongkol Tirakote, 29, an online clothing vendor and activist, guilty in two separate royal defamation cases.

His prison sentence was originally 42 years but the court reduced it following his testimony, his lawyer told AFP.

His lawyer said Mongkol intended to lodge an appeal and the court granted him bail of 300,000 baht (RM38,600).

Royal defamation convictions in Thailand can carry a jail sentence of up to 15 years per charge.

Mongkol also faces a third, separate royal defamation charge over online posts from last year and will be back in court in March.

Human Rights Watch senior researcher Sunai Phasuk said the 28-year sentence was the second-highest prison term handed down by a Thai court for a royal defamation case.

In 2021, a Thai court handed down a record 43-year sentence to a woman identified only as Anchan for insulting the monarchy. Anchan’s last name was withheld by human rights lawyers to protect her relatives.

Her sentence was originally 87 years and she remains in prison.

Ostensibly meant to shield the Thai royal family from defamation, insults or threats, section 112 of the penal code is broadly interpreted to include any criticism of the monarchy.

There was a decline in royal defamation charges for several years in Thailand but mass youth-led protests in 2020 calling for democratic change and reforms to the monarchy saw an uptick in cases.

More than 200 cases have been brought against pro-democracy activists since November 2020, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. — AFP