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Thai court jails 61-year-old for 20 years for disrespect to king

Reuters/Royal household

A Thai court sentenced a man to 20 years in prison Wednesday for sending text messages deemed insulting to the monarchy. Ampon Tangnoppakulis, 61, is the latest victim of the country’s lèse-majesté laws.

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Ampon, who became known in Thailand as "Uncle SMS" during the case, was found guilty of four counts of the crime after sending four messages to the private secretary of then-prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in May 2010.

He has 30 days to lodge an appeal.

Under Thai legislation anyone convicted of insulting the king, queen, heir or regent can face a lengthy prison sentence.

Ampon was arrested in August last year and pleaded not guilty during his trial.

Thailand's Central Bureau of Investigation said the messages were "inappropriate and considered insulting to the monarchy and have upset the recipients," without revealing their content.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 83, the world's longest-reigning monarch, is revered as a demi-god by many Thais.

He spent some time in hospital earlier this month, suffering internal building brought on by distress over the floods that hit the country, according to the royal family.

There has been a rise in lèse-majesté cases over the last few years.

A Thai website editor is facing up to 20 years in jail for allegedly not being quick enough to remove other people's online remarks deemed critical of the monarchy from her website in 2008.

Last month a Thai-born US citizen, Joe Wichai Commart Gordon, pleaded guilty to insulting the monarchy after being accused of posting a link to a translation of a banned book on his blog, along with other material deemed offensive, while living in the United States.

The UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression, Frank La Rue, has urged Thailand to amend the laws, saying they stifled debate on matters of important public interest.

The Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand, set up by the last government in 2010 to investigate violence during recent political turmoil, said in September that use of the law has been "directly related to political conflict".

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