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Thai editor sentenced to 10 years for stories insulting king

A Thai magazine editor was sentenced to 10 years in prison for allowing the publication of two articles that a court said defamed King Bhumibol Adulyadej, prompting criticism from the European Union and human rights groups.

“The articles accused the king of having power over all past governments and being behind most crackdowns against demonstrators,” Bangkok’s Criminal Court said in a statement. “The information in those articles was incorrect. And as the editor of the publication, the defendant should take extreme caution in publishing.”

The editor, Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, is the third person convicted in the last month for insulting the royal family as calls grow within Thailand to change laws used to shield the monarchy from criticism. He was arrested in April 2011, five days after helping start a campaign to change the lese-majeste law.

Thai law mandates jail sentences as long as 15 years for defaming, insulting or threatening the king, queen, heir apparent or regent. The Computer Crimes Act has also been used to punish offenders who criticize the monarchy online.

“The verdict seriously undermines the right to freedom of expression and press freedom,” the EU said in a statement. “At the same time, it affects Thailand’s image as a free and democratic society.”

Somyot received a further year in jail for a previous defamation sentence that had been suspended, the court said. The articles were written by former cabinet minister Jakrapob Penkair, according to the court. Jakrapob, who also faces lese-majeste charges, now lives overseas.

Somyot will appeal, defense lawyer Suvit Thongnual told reporters, adding that they are seeking bail with collateral of $54,000. “He has no intention to insult the king. He is just an editor.”

Last week, a court sentenced a comedian to two years in prison for implying that Bhumibol interfered in politics. He was freed on bail while he appeals the sentence.

On Dec. 25, a former equity trader received a four-year jail term for posting information on Bhumibol’s health that the court said caused the stock market to slide in October 2009.

Bhumibol, 85, assumed the throne in 1946 and serves as head of state. Thailand’s constitution says the king “shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated.”

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