Thai gets 2 years in jail over mock fashion show

BANGKOK: A Thai court on Monday sentenced an activist to two years in prison for allegedly insulting the Southeast Asian country’s queen by wearing traditional Thai attire at a demonstration for reform of the monarchy two years ago, a legal aid group said.

Jatuporn “New” Saeoueng wore a pink dress while a fellow protester held an umbrella over her as she walked down a red carpet at a mock fashion show held on a street in downtown Bangkok on Oct. 29, 2020.

The rally was billed as a counterpoint to a fashion show being staged by Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana, a daughter of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Vajiralongkorn’s wife, Queen Suthida, dresses in elegant silk fashions for formal and public occasions. Members of the Thai royal family have attendants often holding ceremonial umbrellas over them on such occasions.

The group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said Bangkok’s Criminal Court initially sentenced Jatuporn to three years’ imprisonment for violating the lese majeste law — which makes defaming the monarch or his immediate family punishable by a prison term of three to 15 years per offense — and the Public Safety Act. She was also fined 1,000 baht ($27.50). The sentence was immediately reduced to two years.

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Jatuporn was sent to the Central Women’s Correctional Institution pending another court’s ruling on her request to be freed on bail.

The protest was one in a series in 2020 and 2021 that originally demanded political changes, including new elections and a more democratic constitution, but expanded to call for reform of the monarchy.

Protesters charged that King Vajiralongkorn wields an inordinate amount of power in what is nominally a democracy under a constitutional monarchy. The monarchy has long been considered an untouchable institution, revered by a large part of the population.

The protest movement later lost momentum due to controls imposed to fight the coronavirus pandemic and a government legal offense against protest leaders.

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, since November 2020 there have been 210 people charged with a total of 229 violations of the lese majeste law. Thirteen cases have come to trial, and charges were dismissed in three of them.

“I have no intention to mock anyone. I dressed for myself on that day, for a version of myself in a Thai traditional dress,” Jatuporn said in an interview posted online ahead of Monday’s court ruling, “And today, I dress the same way to show that this is just me, in a Thai traditional dress and to ask: what’s wrong with that?”

Jatuporn, who faces six more charges related to her protest activities, said she would appeal her case all the way up to the Supreme Court, if necessary.

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