Two students accused of insulting the Thai monarchy in a university play have been jailed for two years and six months in what is perceived to be the junta’s most recent crackdown on opponents of the country’s military rulers and their allies.
Patiwat Saraiyaem, 23, and Pornthip Munkong, 26, both pleaded guilty to “damaging the monarchy” after they were arrested last year for performing in a 2013 production of “The Wolf Bride”, a satirical work set in a fictional Kingdom, which was performed at Thammasat University in Bangkok.
The students were each charged with one count of lese majeste owing to their participation in the play, which was performed to mark the 40th anniversary of a pro-democracy student protest that took place at Thammasat University in October and was crushed by the military regime.
While it is widely known that the production featured a fictional monarch, little other information on the case has been publicised, on the grounds that in-depth discussion of its details would constitute an insult to the family of the Thai King Bhumibol.
The case has been branded by Human Rights Watch as “another dark mark” on the record of Thailand’s junta, which has used the law increasingly aggressively as a means of stifling controversial public debate.
Particularly astute critics noted the irony of the fact that, while actors and directors were being celebrated at the 2015 Oscars ceremony, Thai officials were imprisoning student dramatists for putting on a play.
Thai authorities are still hunting for at least six other students who were involved in “The Wolf Bride” for violating section 112 of Thailand’s criminal code, which stipulates that those who insult the king, queen, heir or regent must serve up to 15 years in prison.
At least two of the six wanted students have reportedly fled Thailand, joining the ranks of academics and political activists who have exiled themselves amid a surge of royal opposition since the military took hold of the country in May of last year.
According to the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights, at least 40 people have been arrested since the military seized power; seven have already been sentenced to between two and 15 years’ imprisonment. Recent convictions include a taxi driver who was jailed for two years and six months after his passenger recorded their conversation on their mobile phone, and a 24-year-old student who was imprisoned for the same length of time for denouncing the royal family on Facebook.
The junta’s rule in Thailand has caused a rapid deterioration in civil rights throughout the country, with the military crushing any form of criticism of Thai rulers by banning protests, censoring the media and detaining and arresting activists.
Political analysts have suggested that such developments in Thailand are fuelled by anxieties over who will assume responsibility for the country when the reign of King Bhumibol, who has held the throne for more than 60 years and maintains the status of the world’s longest-serving monarch, eventually comes to an end. Any discussion of royal succession is, however, prohibited under Thailand’s lese majeste law.
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