40-year-old Surapak Puchaisaeng, a computer programmer from Bangkok, Thailand, has been arrested on charges of insulting Thailand's 83-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Facebook. Lawyer Lomrak Meemeuan said his client was accused of creating a Facebook profile with defamatory pictures, audio clips, and messages about the nation's revered monarch, according to CBS News.
Thailand's rulers have long used criminal insult charges to silence political opponents. Surapak's case, however, appears to be the first of its kind since a new government under Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra took power in August. Shinawatra pledged to crack down on alleged online royal insults.
Lomrak said his client insists he is innocent, and denies all allegations of insulting the monarchy. He is now being held in a Bangkok jail. Police have also confiscated his desktop and laptop computers.
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy but has a lese majeste law that prohibits any criticism of the monarchy by painting it as governmental disloyalty. Any person who is convicted of defaming, insulting, or threatening the king, the queen, the heir to the throne, or the Regent faces three to 15 years in prison. The country also has a 2007 Computer Crime Act prohibiting online statements that jeopardize national security or cause panic. Surapak has also been accused of violating this law, which carries a maximum jail term of five years and a fine of 100,000 baht ($3,300).
Any Thai citizen can make a complaint under the lese majeste law against any Thai or foreign citizen in Thailand. Once the complaint has been made, the police are duty-bound to investigate. Once the process of lese majeste has started, it is rarely dismissed.
In the last few years, the number of lese majeste cases in Thailand has soared. There had been hopes that a change of government would reverse the trend but the opposite seems to be happening. Human rights groups have criticized the law for being used by officials to limit freedom of expression.