Prominent Thai human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa has been convicted of insulting King Maha Vajiralongkorn and sentenced to four years in prison. This marks the first conviction under Thailand’s controversial law protecting the monarchy since a civilian government took office. Arnon was found guilty of defaming the king during a student-led rally in October 2020. He was also fined for violating an emergency decree related to COVID-19 restrictions.
Arnon, 39, still faces 13 more cases under the lèse-majesté law, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison for insulting the monarch, his immediate family, or the regent. The court ruled that Arnon’s statement at the rally, claiming that the dispersal of the gathering would be at the order of the king, was false and defamatory.
Arnon’s lawyer, Kritsadang Nutcharat, has stated that his client will appeal the conviction and seek bail. Arnon expressed his determination to continue the struggle for democracy, even if it means losing his freedom. He was accompanied by his wife, son, and father during the court proceedings, with around 20 others showing solidarity outside the Bangkok Criminal Court.
Critics argue that the lèse-majesté law is often used to suppress political dissent, and there has been a growing public debate on the topic, particularly among young people. The monarchy has traditionally been considered untouchable, but calls for reform have gained traction in recent years.
The conviction of Arnon Nampa highlights the ongoing tension between those advocating for democratic reforms and conservative factions within Thailand’s military and courts. The country’s general election in May resulted in a new government led by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, with the populist Pheu Thai party forming a coalition with military-backed parties. Opposition to reforming the lèse-majesté law played a role in the denial of power to the progressive Move Forward Party.
Arnon Nampa, who has been recognized for his pro-democracy work, was awarded the 2021 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights. He has been at the forefront of the movement calling for reform of the monarchy and has previously accused the government of using spyware to monitor his mobile devices.