updated 3/29/2007 9:49:33 AM ET 2007-03-29T13:49:33

A Swiss man was sentenced to 10 years in prison Thursday for spray-painting graffiti over images of Thailand’s revered king, the first conviction of a foreigner in at least a decade under strict Thai laws protecting the monarchy.

Oliver Rudolf Jufer, 57, who had pleaded guilty to five counts of lese majeste, or insulting the monarchy, had faced a maximum sentence of 75 years in prison.

Judge Phitsanu Tanbukalee said Jufer was given a reduced sentence since he had admitted his wrongdoing. He has a month to appeal.

Jufer was caught by surveillance cameras on Dec. 5 spray-painting black paint over five outdoor posters of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in the northern city of Chiang Mai, where he lived, police and prosecutors said. His lawyer said he was intoxicated during the act.

Bhumibol, the world’s longest serving monarch, is greatly loved by Thais and regarded by some as semi-divine. He is protected from reproach by strict laws that forbid any criticism of the monarchy.

The vandalism coincided with Bhumibol’s 79th birthday, which was celebrated across Thailand with fireworks and prayers.

Strict lese majeste laws
Jufer, who was shackled at the ankles and dressed in an orange prison uniform, was expressionless as the verdict was announced. He made no comment to reporters as he was ushered out of the courtroom.

His case casts a rare spotlight on Thailand’s strict lese majeste laws, which have remained virtually unchanged since the country’s first criminal code in 1908 despite the overthrow of an absolute monarchy in 1932.

Jufer’s March 12 hearing was closed to the media to minimize publicity of his offense against the king, but journalists were allowed into Thursday’s sentencing.

Thai television and newspapers have relied on foreign news agencies to cover the trial. The Thai media and people in general almost never make controversial comments about the king in public.

Bangkok’s Criminal Court said its national database, which goes back a decade, showed that no foreigner had been convicted of lese majeste charges in at least 10 years. A handful of foreigners have faced similar charges in the past, but most eventually were deported to their home countries.

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