2 Thai activists who staged play found guilty of insulting monarchy, get 2 1/2 years in jail



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BANGKOK — A court in Thailand sentenced two theater activists to two and a half years in prison on Monday on charges of insulting the country's monarchy.

The activists produced a play called "The Wolf Bride" about a fictional monarch and his adviser. It was performed at Bangkok's Thammasat University in 2013 to mark the anniversary of a 1973 anti-dictatorship uprising led by students.

Thailand's lese majeste law is the world's harshest, carrying a punishment of three to 15 years in jail for anyone who defames, insults, or threatens the monarchy. Anyone can file a lese majeste complaint with police, and the charge has frequently been used as a weapon to harass political enemies. In this case, a group named the Royal Monarch Alert Protection Network filed the complaint.

Patiwat Saraiyaem, a 23-year-old university student, and Pornthip Munkong, a 26-year-old recent graduate, have been in jail since last August and their bail requests were repeatedly turned down by a Bangkok court. Both pleaded guilty, a common practice in lese majeste cases, in December.

In announcing the verdict, a Bangkok Criminal Court judge said the play contained content that defamed the monarchy and was presented to a large number of spectators.

Pawinee Chumsri, the defendants' lawyer, told reporters they were not likely to appeal.

The government installed by Thailand's military, which seized power from an elected administration in a coup last May, has made defending the monarchy a priority in an effort to ensure stability toward the end of 87-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej's reign.

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch called the jail terms "yet another serious blow to freedom of expression in Thailand and another dark mark on Thailand's already battered international reputation."

"Vowing to protect the monarchy, the ... junta has accelerated efforts to hunt down alleged lese majeste actions and statements, and prosecute people for peaceful expression of views, like conducting a play, posting online, or making a speech," the group's Asia director, Brad Adams, said in a statement.

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