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02 June 2023

Blind Thai woman jailed for sharing 'royal insult' on Facebook

Nuhurhayati will serve her sentence at the provincial prison in Yala. (AFP)


A blind woman was jailed for 18 months by a Thai court on Thursday for sharing a Facebook post deemed defamatory to the royal family, her lawyer said, the latest victim of a tough law that shields the monarchy from criticism.

Nuhurhayati Masoe, 23, who hails from Thailand's Muslim-majority Yala province, was punished for publishing an excerpt from an article on the social media platform in October 2016.

She heard the article through an audio application for blind people.

"Judges said they sympathised with her because of her blindness but could not suspend the sentence as she has committed a serious offence," defence lawyer Kaosar Aleemama told AFP.

Her initial three-year sentence was halved to 18 months because she pleaded guilty, the lawyer added.

It is not possible to report the contents of the allegedly defamatory Facebook post as all media based in Thailand must self-censor or risk falling foul of the broadly-interpreted lese majeste law.

Thailand aggressively pursues critics of the monarchy under the law, which carries up to 15 years in prison per offence.

The legislation specifically bars defaming the king, queen, heir or regent.

But it is freely used to silence any criticism of the monarchy, an opaque, ultra-rich institution that wields vast power behind the scenes in Thailand.

Most cases are shrouded in secrecy and heard in closed-door trials.

Defendants are rarely granted bail or acquitted, leading many to plead guilty in exchange for lighter punishments.

Lese majeste prosecutions have shot up since an arch-royalist junta grabbed power in 2014, with many charges lodged over critical commentary posted or shared on social media.

Record, decades-long sentences have also continued under Thailand's new king Maha Vajiralongkorn, who took the throne in late 2016 after the death of his deeply-revered father Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Nuhurhayati will serve her sentence at the provincial prison in Yala, one of Thailand's southernmost provinces where Malay-Muslim insurgents are fighting the writ of the Thai state.