Military court sends mother of two to 28 years for lèse majesté

A military court in northern Thailand has sentenced a hotel employee with two children to 28 years behind bars for posting Facebook messages alleged to defame the Thai monarchy.

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), Chiang Mai Military Court on Friday afternoon, 7 August 2015, sentenced Sasiwimon (surname withheld due to privacy concerns), a 29-year-old hotel worker in the province, to 56 years in jail for allegedly posting seven lèse majesté messages under the Facebook identity ‘Rungnapha Kampichai’.

The military court sentenced the suspect to 8-year jail terms on each of the seven lèse majesté counts. But since the defendant pleaded guilty as charged, the court halved the jail term to 28 years.

At the deposition hearing in June 2015, the defendant denied all allegations. However, during the prosecution examination hearing today, 7 August 2015, she retracted her pretrial statements and pleaded guilty.

Prior to the ruling, Sasiwimon submitted a letter to the court, requesting the judges to reduce the jail sentence because she has never previously committed any crime and is the mother of two daughters aged seven and five. The military court judges dismissed the request and reasoned that the jail sentence is already light given the severity of the case because it is related to the revered Thai monarchy and has gravely affected the public sentiment of Thai people.       

In September 2014, a Facebook group in Chiang Mai known simply as ‘Facebook Chiang Mai’ filed a lèse majesté complaint against a Facebook user under the name ‘Rungnapha Kampichai’ at a local police station.

Shortly after, an individual whose real identity is Rungnapha Kampichai contacted the group, saying that the Facebook account under her name does not belong to her.

In the same month, police officers searched Sasiwimon’s house in Chiang Mai and confiscated her mobile phone and computer.

On 13 February 2015, police summoned the suspect and accused her of posting six messages allegedly defaming the Thai monarchy on Facebook. Sasiwimon was then brought to the military court and Chiang Mai Women's Correctional Institute for detention. She has remained in custody since.

The suspect’s family four times offered 400,000 baht (11,869 USD) as bail. However, the court denied bail, citing the severity of the case.

During the deposition hearing in June 2015, Sasiwimon said that she has never participated in any political demonstration and that she is not interested in politics.