A retired truck driver was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Wednesday for sending cellphone text messages that a court deemed insulting to Thailand’s monarchy. The conviction is the latest in a growing number of cases in Thailand under a law imposing harsh penalties for making insults or threats directed at King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 83, and his family, even in private communications.
The defendant, Ampon Tangnoppakul, 61, was sentenced to five years in prison for each message, according to one of his lawyers, Poonsuk Poonsukcharoen, who said his client denied sending any messages. “He insists that he does not know how to send text messages,” Ms. Poonsuk said by telephone. “He insists that he loves His Majesty the King.” The judge ruled that the text messages, which were sent to a senior government official, defamed, insulted and threatened the king and his wife, Queen Sirikit. The contents of the messages were not revealed in court.
The judge rejected Mr. Ampon’s assertion that his phone was being repaired around the time the messages were sent last May, a time of political tumult in the streets of Bangkok that Thai officials said coincided with a rise in criticism of the monarchy. Earlier this year the government set up a “war room” to shut down Web sites carrying material deemed insulting to the royal family. Prosecutors are also using the country’s lèse-majesté laws more aggressively. “There’s been a huge increase in the number of cases going before the courts,” said David Streckfuss, a scholar who specializes in the issue. Mr. Ampon was not in the courtroom on Wednesday because the prison where he is being held is surrounded by floodwaters. He watched the judge deliver his sentence over a video link, his lawyer said.