BANGKOK — A pro-democracy activist in Thailand was re-arrested Thursday after his bail was revoked in a case accusing him of sharing online a Thai-language BBC story about the country’s new king.
The court’s action has drawn more than the usual attention because of the contrast with the release on bail earlier in the week of two people sentenced to death in a murder case.
The arrest of Jatupat ‘Pai’ Boonpattararaksa for sharing the BBC story on Facebook was the first under the country’s tough lese majeste law since King Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun ascended the throne on Dec. 1 after his father’s death in October.
Lese majeste, or insulting the monarchy, carries a penalty of three to 15 years in prison. Jatupat’s case has not yet come to trial, and he faces charges in other separate cases for his political activities opposing Thailand’s military government.
The BBC story included mentions of the king’s personal life and other material considered too sensitive to be published in the Thai press.
The court in Khon Kaen province revoked Jatupat’s 400,000 baht ($11,100) bail after police reported that he was still using social media in ways that could complicate his case and had taunted officials by suggesting that the bail procedure was mainly a way for the government to get money during an economic slowdown.
The court acted the same week that a court sentenced to death a woman for the murder of her husband and the lawyer who helped to hire the gunmen. Their treatment is likely to revive debate over whether the wealthy and well-connected have a large measure of impunity in the Thai justice system.
Nitiwadee Pucharoenyos was sentenced Monday and released on bail the next day after the Appeals Court concluded she was not a flight risk because she was a doctor with an established residence. The court also approved the release on bail of lawyer Santi Thongsem, who was sentenced for hiring the gunmen who killed Nitiwadee’s husband in 2013.
Thai courts seldom grant release on bail in lese majeste cases, citing national security, even though most cases involve speech that does not go beyond a small circle of friends. Critics of the law say it is often abused to silence political dissent.