Member of parliament Rukchanok Srinork of Thailand's opposition party Move Forward arrives at the criminal court for verdict for allegedly violating the lese majeste law in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, December 13, 2023. AP

BANGKOK — A court in Thailand convicted and sentenced a recently elected lawmaker on Wednesday to six years in prison for defaming the monarchy under a controversial law protecting the royal institution.

Human Rights Watch condemned the decision, saying it “violated their rights to freedom of expression protected by international human rights law.”

Rukchanok Srinork arrived for his hearing in the capital, Bangkok, as his fellow lawmakers met in Parliament.

“I submitted a request to postpone (the hearing) because today the new parliament meets for its first session, but the court refused. So I came to hear the verdict,” she told reporters, alongside her party leader, who was there to lend support.

She was charged over two posts she allegedly shared two years ago on X, the social media platform then known as Twitter. One tweet allegedly defamed the monarchy due to links to a coronavirus vaccine and an anti-monarchy quote from 18th-century French philosopher Denis Diderot was allegedly retweeted.

Rukchanok was sentenced to three years on each charge under Article 112 of Thailand's Penal Code, known as lèse majeste, which protects the monarchy. She was also convicted under the Computer Crime Act, whose broad provisions covering online activities have been criticized as a threat to freedom of expression.

On December 6, the court granted him release on 500,000 baht ($14,200) bail. If it had been denied, she would have immediately lost her status as a legislator.

The lawmaker denied posting the tweets, calling the case against her “weak.” The plaintiff reportedly provided screenshots of the posts, but police were unable to find the links.

Rukchanok, 29, won a seat in May's general election, part of a surprise victory for the progressive Move Forward Party that shook up Thai politics. The victory did not translate into power because the party was eventually defeated by influential conservative forces. She was initially a supporter of the conservative establishment before switching sides and joining the progressive movement.

“The prosecution of an opposition member of parliament for two tweets is not only a terrible violation of freedom of expression, but sends a chilling message to other outspoken members of the opposition party to remain silent,” said Elaine Pearson, director for Human Rights Watch's Asia on Thursday. in an emailed statement. “Thai authorities should annul this ruling and stop prosecuting further cases under the lese majeste law.”

Critics say the lese majeste law is often used to suppress political dissent. The law makes insulting the monarch, his immediate family and the regent punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

The monarchy and the laws that protect it have been under pressure in recent years. In 2020, tens of thousands of people, predominantly young people, marched in several Thai cities, demanding constitutional reform and the abolition of the law against royal defamation. The government's response was an unprecedented series of lawsuits.

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Advocacy group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights says that since the beginning of 2020, more than 200 people – many of them student activists – have been accused of violating Article 112.