Journalist jailed on anti-royal charges in Thailand

New York, November 25, 2014–The editor of an online news aggregator in Thailand was sentenced on Monday to four and a half years in prison on charges of defaming the country’s monarch, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the sentence and calls for an end to the use of the country’s lѐse majesté law to stifle press freedom.

Nut Rungwong, editor of the website Thai E-News, was convicted of defaming King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the country’s 86-year-old monarch, by publishing an article in 2009, according to news reports. The article was written by Giles Ungpakorn, a Thai university professor and political writer who faces separate lѐse majesté charges and lives in exile in the United Kingdom, the reports said.

Thai E-News aggregates political news from various sources. The website is currently blocked inside Thailand by the Information and Communication Technology Ministry but has continued to operate since Nut’s arrest, news reports said.

Thailand’s lѐse majesté law, Article 112 of the criminal code, is designed to shield the monarchy from criticism. Convictions are punishable by three to 15 years in prison.

Nut’s sentence was commuted from nine years to four and a half years because he pled guilty to the charges, news reports said. He was first arrested during a police raid on his house on May 25, three days after the military seized power from an elected government.

“The harsh sentence of editor Nut Rungwong underscores the severe deterioration of press freedom conditions in Thailand,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program director. “Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha should prioritize reforming the country’s excessive lѐse majesté law rather than using it to lock away critical journalists.”

Nut is the second journalist to be imprisoned on lѐse majesté charges, according to CPJ research. In January 2013, Somyot Preuksakasemsuk, editor of the now-defunct Voice of Taksin newsmagazine, was sentenced to 11 years in prison on charges related to two articles he published that were deemed critical of the royal family.

Prayut’s military-dominated government has ramped up lѐse majesté charges and imposed martial law, including measures to stifle critical reporting of its rule. Earlier this month, soldiers pressured Thai PBS, a quasi-independent public news broadcaster, to suspend one of its reporters because she had posed critical questions about military rule.