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Journalist gets 10-year prison sentence for insulting Thai king

BANGKOK -- A Thai activist and former magazine editor was given a 10-year prison sentence Wednesday for insulting the royal family under the country's draconian lese-majeste law, drawing condemnation from international rights groups and the European Union.

Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, who was editor of a magazine devoted to self-exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was found guilty of publishing articles in 2010 defaming King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The government later shut down the magazine, called Voice of Taksin, or "voice of the oppressed."

The articles criticized the role of a fictional character meant to represent the king, public prosecutors said in a July 2011 report. Discussions about the role of the monarchy are forbidden under the law, which translates to "injured majesty."

"The accused is a journalist who had a duty to check the facts in these articles before publishing them. He knew the content defamed the monarchy but allowed their publication anyway," a judge said in passing sentence.

The European Union Delegation to Thailand said the verdict and sentence undermined the right to freedom of expression.

"At the same time, it affects Thailand's image as a free and democratic society," it said in a statement.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said the ruling was "more about Somyot's strong support for amending the lese-majeste law than about any harm incurred by the monarchy".

Rights groups say the lese-majeste law is used by Thailand's powerful elite to silence political opponents, including supporters of pro-Thaksin groups.

Websites accused of defaming the royal family are frequently shut down.

The 85-year-old king, who has been in hospital since 2009, is seen by many in Thailand as a unifying, semi-divine father figure.


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