Thai man jailed for lese-majeste over Australian news footage

Activists hold signs as they gather in front of the Thai Criminal court during a protest in Bangkok January 25, 2013. The group was protesting against the lese majeste law which jailed a former Thai magazine editor for 10 years on Wednesday for insulting the royal family, a sentence that drew condemnation from international rights groups and the European Union.

BANGKOK - A Thai court jailed a man for three years and four months on Thursday for selling video CDs showing sections of an Australian news series that contained content deemed offensive to Thailand's royal family.

Akachai Hongkawan, 37, was also fined 66,666 baht ($2,830) under Thailand's strict lese-majeste law after he was found guilty of distributing the segments from a 2010 Australian Broadcasting Corporation series, translated into Thai, that discussed the future of the monarchy.

"The defendant assembled and distributed the video CDs himself after downloading the documentary from the Internet and was fully aware of his actions," a judge at a Bangkok criminal court said in passing sentence.

Thailand's 85-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej is seen as semi-divine by many Thais but he told an audience in 2005 that he should not be above criticism.

Video CDs, or VCDs, predate DVDs and are still commonly used in Thailand.

Earlier this month, a state-owned television station was criticised by the army chief, a government minister and members of the public for airing a rare debate on the lese-majeste law.

In a case that was widely denounced by rights groups, a former magazine editor was jailed for 10 years in January after he was found guilty of publishing articles defaming King Bhumibol in 2010.

Critics say the lese-majese law is used as a political tool to discredit and silence opponents. Those found guilty of insulting the royal family can serve up to 15 years in jail for each offence.

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