BANGKOK -- A Thai man was sentenced to two years in prison Tuesday for selling calendars featuring satirical cartoons of yellow ducks that a court said mocked the country’s monarch, a legal aid group said.
Bangkok’s Criminal Court ruled that the calendar for 2021 containing pictures of yellow ducks in poses resembled and ridiculed Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn, diminishing his reputation, the group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said.
Yellow rubber ducks were at one point a tongue-in-cheek symbol of Thailand’s pro-democracy protest movement.
Narathorn Chotmankongsin was charged under Thailand’s lese majeste law, which calls for three to 15 years’ imprisonment for anyone who defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir apparent or the regent.
The court declared that six illustrations in the calendar were made to mock the king.
The legal aid group said the 26-year-old defendant, whom it identified by the nickname Ton Mai, had his sentence reduced to two years because he cooperated with the court.
Human Rights Watch issued a statement Wednesday asking Thai authorities to “quash the sentence and promptly release Narathorn Chotmankongsin."
“The prosecution and three-year sentence of a man for selling satirical calendars shows that Thai authorities are now trying to punish any activity they deem to be insulting the monarchy,” said Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “This case sends a message to all Thais, and to the rest of the world, that Thailand is moving further away from — not closer to — becoming a rights-respecting democracy.”
The lese majeste law has long drawn criticism for its harshness and a provision allowing anyone to file a complaint, allowing its use for partisan political purposes. In recent years, it has become a focus of pro-democracy activists, who have called for it to be amended or abolished.
Two young female activists seeking its repeal and other judicial reforms are reportedly in critical condition after hunger striking for more than six weeks.
At least 233 people have been charged with lese majeste since November 2020 according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. Before that, prosecutions had been informally suspended, bThaut they were revived as the protest movement gained strength and made increasingly strong criticisms of the monarchy.
The demands to reform the monarchy have been controversial because by tradition, the institution has been considered untouchable and one of the main foundations of Thai nationalism.
This story has been amended to correct date when lese majeste prosecutions were restarted to November 2020, not November 2021.