updated 8/28/2009 5:42:57 AM ET 2009-08-28T09:42:57

A Thai court sentenced an activist Friday to 18 years in prison, on charges of insulting the monarchy in speeches during political rallies.

Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul, 46, was charged with violating Thailand's lese majeste law, which mandates a jail term of three to 15 years for anyone who "defames, insults, or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent, or the Regent."

Daranee, nicknamed "Da Torpedo" for her aggressive speaking style, has been detained without bail since July 2008.

The court sentenced Daranee, a journalist-turned-activist, to six years in prison for three different remarks deemed insulting to the monarchy during public political rallies, said Judge Phrommaj Poosae.

Dressed in an orange prison uniform, Daranee smiled and flashed a victory sign to cameras as she was escorted from the courtroom by guards.

Daranee told reporters she will appeal the verdict.

"I expected the verdict," she told reports. "My lawyer will appeal."

Public barred from trial
In June, the court decided to close the trial to the public, citing national security and sensitivity of the issue despite concerns raised by Amnesty International and other human rights groups.

Repeating comments deemed insulting to the monarchy is also a crime in Thailand.

The case is tied closely to the country's bitter political division between supporters of the 2006 coup against former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was accused of corruption, abuse of power and anti-coup activists and Thaksin loyalists, who include Daranee.

Thaksin's "red-shirt" supporters view him as the country's rightfully elected leader, accusing some of the king's close advisers of meddling in politics and even orchestrating the coup. His "yellow-shirt" opponents say Thaksin tries to usurp the authority of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and plots to get rid of the constitutional monarchy, accusations the former leader has repeatedly denied.

Prosecutions rise amid succession debate
The monarch has historically been the country's sole unifying figure in times of crisis, even though he is a constitutional monarch with moral authority rather than legal powers.

Lese majeste prosecutions used to be rare in Thailand, and the accusation was mostly used for partisan political purposes as a means of smearing opponents.

But in recent years, as nervousness about the eventual succession to 81-year-old Bhumibol's rule has increased, the number of high-profile cases has risen, with the previously taboo subject of the monarchy's proper role starting to become a matter of public debate.

They have included complaints 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.

The Australian novelist was given a royal pardon and released in February while serving his prison term.

In April, a Thai man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for posting edited photos of the monarchy on the Internet.

More on: Thailand

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