61-year-old Ampon Tangnoppakul, described by The Bangkok Post as having a “slow walk, bent back, white hair, and blurry eyes, ” has found fame in Thailand for all the wrong reasons. The man was found guilty of a crime that can be considered worse than murder in the eyes of the Thai courts. Bearing in mind that in 2001, a professor beat his wife to death and received a verdict of 50 hours of community service, Ampon’s non-capital crime has earned him a 20-year jail sentence. What could this man have done to deserve such a sentence? The court found Ampon guilty under notorious section 112, or “lese majeste.”
Thailand has one of the strictest stances in the world towards “lese majeste”—meaning defamation of the monarch. Tangnoppakul was accused of sending slanderous text messages about the queen to the secretary of the prime minister. Ampon and his wife deny the accusations, arguing that the man doesn’t even know how to send texts. But authorities insist they tracked the serial number to a phone found at Ampon’s home.
Accordingly, the usually deferential Thai media irreverently christened Ampon “Uncle SMS.” And so the increasingly nasty and divisive quarrel over lese majeste continues, proceeding to generate widespread outrage from human rights activists, and great unease among progressive sectors of Thai society, even those supporting and respecting the monarchy. One social activist group, The Santiprachatham Network, believes lese majeste is being misapplied to neutralize people with different political beliefs during times of instability. Increasingly, that would seem hard to dispute.
Undoubtedly this extreme case has served as fuel for lese majeste opponents seeking the legal reform in the country
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