Ampon Tangnoppakul, 61, a.k.a. Arkong, and to many in Thailand as “Uncle SMS
”, was sentenced on November 24 to 20 years in prison for four alleged violations of Article 112 (Lese-majesty
) of the Thai Criminal Code and the relevant sections of the Computer Crimes Act of 2007. According with the charges, Tangnoppakul allegedly sent four SMS messages to Somkiat Klongwattanasak, personal secretary of former Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
The authorities have indicated that the four SMS messages contained “vulgar language intended to defame the Thai queen and to insult the honour of the monarchy”. The SMS messages have not been made public and reporting by journalists on the text in question would constitute a violation of the law and expose them to criminal prosecution.
The alleged crime took place sometime in the first half of 2010. On August 3, 2010, a brigade of 15 police officers arrested Ampon Tangnoppakul. He was in “pre-charge” detention for 63 days and granted bail on October 4, 2010. In January 2011 he was formally charged of four violations of Article 112 and the Computer Crimes Act, and has been incarcerated since then. The court refused bail on the basis of the gravity of his crime and the possibility of escape.
Ampon, who is described by his friends as a royalist
, has maintained his innocence from the start. He noted that he did not know how to send a SMS message, that at the time the messages were sent his phone was being repaired, and that the number of the cell phone that sent the message to Somkiat Klongwattanasak is not his number.
The prosecution has ignored the arguments of the defense maintaining the cell phone that sent the messages to Somkiat belonged to Ampon, which makes him responsible. The prosecutors also argue that Ampon was unable to specify the name and location of the mobile-phone shop where his phone was being repaired.
Ampon’s trial took place on 23-30 September 2011. The 20-year jail sentence was dictated on November 24, 2011. Ampon was not present at the reading of the verdict because the flooding in Bangkok prevented his transport from the jail to the court. He received the news by video-conference surrounded by his daughters, granddaughters, a daughter-in-law and several activists campaigning for reform of article 112
. Mr. Ampon, who according to his wife has been severely affected by depression and mental fatigue, reportedly wept.
Ampon’s situation is aggravated by the fact that he is suffering from laryngeal cancer and had been unable to access proper treatment during the time of his detention. He may have difficulty accessing proper treatment following his conviction and transfer to a regular prison.
"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 he can get treatment for his worsening oral cancer symptoms."
said Rosamalin, Ampon's wife, reports the Bangkok Post
The Asian Human Rights Commission
, based in Hong Kong, has expressed concern over this conviction and the sentencing of a person in Thailand for a crime of freedom of expression calling for the release of Ampon Tangnoppakul and others imprisoned for crimes under Article 112 and the 2007 Computer Crimes Act.