November 25, 2011

THAILAND: 61-year old gets 20 years jail for sending four SMS

BANGKOK, Thailand / The Bangkok Post / News / November 24, 2011

The Criminal Court yesterday sentenced 61-year-old Ampon Tangnoppakul to 20 years in jail after finding him guilty of lese majeste and computer crimes. Lese-majeste is the crime of violating majesty, an offence against the dignity of a reigning sovereign or against a state.

The verdict was read out over a video conference link this morning as the Bangkok Remand Prison is isolated by flooding and Ampon was unable to attend the hearing. The verdict triggered weeping and sobbing among Mr Ampon's family members. The court found him guilty on four counts under two laws _ Section 112 of the Criminal Procedure Code, widely known as the lese majeste law, and Section 14 of the Computer Crime Act. He was sentenced to five years in prison on each count.

Mr Ampon, a Samut Prakan resident, is also known as "Uncle SMS" among those who follow his updates, or as "Ah Kong" _ or grandpa among his acquaintances. He was charged with sending four text messages with offensive content in May last year to the personal secretary of then prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Ampon: Wept upon hearing court verdict

Presiding Judge Chanathip Muanphawong said in his verdict that prosecutors had demonstrated Ampon sent text messages disparaging to Her Majesty the Queen on May 9, 11, and 22. "[Telecommunications] traffic data from Dtac and True, the mobile phone operators, which are required to be kept under the law is considered as reliable evidence," the court said.

Police from the Technology Crime Suppression Division could identify precisely that the data of the first 14 digits of the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) traced from the messages was from Mr Ampon's mobile phone. The defendant could not produce experts to back up his claim that the IMEI number could have been forged. Also, he could not produce witnesses who could back up his claim that he did not know how to send text messages. With all the witnesses and evidence, the court found him guilty and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. After the verdict, at Bangkok Remand Prison, a prison official who was sitting beside Mr Ampon asked the court officers by phone about the verdict results because the sound on the video link was not clear.

A court official responded: "The uncle faces 20 years in jail". Ampon reportedly wept, surrounded by his daughters, granddaughters, and a daughter-in-law as well as activists campaigning for reform of article 112. Ms Rosamalin, Mr Ampon's wife, said the family was most concerned about his mental fatigue and despondency. "His strength is almost gone already. With the harsh sentence at his age, we just want to plead for bail [to appeal the verdict] so that we can get treatment for his worsening oral cancer symptoms."

After the verdict, his defence lawyer and his family discussed how they would proceed: to lodge an appeal or work towards being granted a royal pardon.

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