updated 4/3/2009 7:09:52 AM ET 2009-04-03T11:09:52

A Thai citizen was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison on charges of insulting the king and his family by posting edited photos of the monarchy on the Internet, a court said.

Suwicha Thakho, 34, a former oil worker, was detained in January and admitted altering the photos of revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his family, the Bangkok Criminal Court said. It did not say how the photos were changed or where they appeared, although local news reports said some appeared on YouTube.

The court found Suwicha guilty of violating the country's lese majeste law, which prohibits insulting the king and his family, as well as the 2007 Computer Crime Act, which bars the circulation of material deemed detrimental to national security or that causes public panic.

Stepped-up campaign
Until recently, lese majeste prosecutions were rare in Thailand, and the accusation was mostly used for partisan political purposes as a means of smearing opponents.

But in recent months, lese majeste complaints have been filed against a fledgling Australian novelist, a BBC correspondent, a prominent Buddhist intellectual and an activist who refused to stand during the playing of the Royal Anthem at a movie theater.

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy but has a tough lese majeste law that mandates a jail term of three to 15 years for "whoever defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the regent." Anyone violating the Computer Crime Act can be imprisoned for up to five years and fined 100,000 baht ($2,770).

The Thai government has also blocked several thousand Internet sites that it said were offensive to the monarchy.

Prolonged political crisis
The stepped-up campaign against those perceived to have criticized the monarchy comes amid a prolonged political crisis in which opposing groups have accused each other of being less loyal to the 81-year-old king, and as the country considers an eventual transfer of the throne to a crown prince who lacks his father's widespread popularity.

Last year, anti-government protesters showed their loyalty to the king by wearing yellow, which represents the day of his birth. They accused former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his allies of trying to usurp the king's central role — something Thaksin has denied.

Thaksin, however, has sharply criticized the king's chief adviser, Privy Council head Prem Tinsulanonda, and accused him of masterminding the 2006 military coup that ousted him from power.

The comments have shocked Thailand, where the Privy Council is considered by many an extension of the king himself.

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