Bangkok: A Thai radio show host has been jailed for five years for royal defamation, his lawyer said Tuesday, one of the first sentences passed by a military court for breaching the draconian law since a May coup.
Kathawut, 59, who presents an online radio show from overseas, was arrested on his return to Thailand in June for defaming the monarchy on his programme, according to his lawyer, who only wished to be identified as a representative of the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.
Under Thailand`s strict lese majeste rules anyone convicted of insulting the king, queen, heir or regent faces up to 15 years in prison on each count.
Shortly after seizing power on May 22, the junta vowed a crackdown on lese majeste offences.
Rights groups say there has since been a rise in both charges and convictions under the law. Most cases have been handled in civilian courts rather than military ones.
"Initially the military court sentenced him to 10 years in prison but as he confessed the judge halved the sentence to five years," said the lawyer, who did not identify the accused by his surname for fear of reprisals against his family.
An official from Bangkok`s Military Court told AFP a lese majeste verdict had been scheduled Tuesday but provided no further details.
He said there had been other sentences in the military court for the same offence but declined to say how many.
The royal family is a highly sensitive topic in the politically turbulent kingdom where 86-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world`s longest reigning monarch, is revered as a demi-god by many Thais.
The lawyer added that her client, who travelled to Thailand to attend the funeral of a relative, had been denied bail.
Rights groups have voiced particular concern over the fate of suspects charged under martial law, imposed by the army two days before the coup, as they have no right to appeal in a military court.
Lese majeste, or Section 112 of Thailand`s criminal code, is designed to protect the monarchy from insult, but academics say it has been politicised in recent years as the king`s reign enters its twilight.
Many of those charged have been linked to the "Red Shirt" movement, whose activists are broadly supportive of fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
The coup was the latest twist in Thailand`s long-running political conflict, which broadly pits a Bangkok-based middle class and royalist elite, backed by parts of the military and judiciary, against rural and working-class voters loyal to Thaksin.