Thais rally against lese majeste at prisoner funeral

Buddhist monk at the funeral
Image caption Ampon's body was paraded through the streets of Bangkok before being taken to the court

Hundreds of Thais have gathered outside the Bangkok Criminal Court demanding reform of the law that punishes anyone who insults the royal family.

They protested at the funeral of Ampon Tangnoppakul, who was jailed under lese majeste laws for sending text messages deemed offensive to the queen.

Ampon, 62, was jailed for 20 years.

He was admitted to hospital last week with stomach pains. His wife, Rosmalin Tangnoppakul, discovered he had died when she visited the jail on Tuesday.

An initial autopsy suggested he died of liver cancer, which spread to other organs.

After picking up his coffin from hospital, Ms Rosmalin took his body to perform a religious ceremony in front of the criminal court.

The aim, she said, was to remind the public of the importance of amending the legislation and "allowing all of those who are sick to receive medical treatment".

Free speech

Mr Ampon was convicted in November last year of sending four messages to an official working for then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

He denied the claims and said he did not know how to send a text.

The conviction sparked outrage among rights groups, with Amnesty International describing Ampon as a political prisoner and the European Union expressing ''deep concern''.

Ampon, who became known as ''Uncle SMS'', had been hoping for a royal pardon, his lawyer Anon Numpa said.

Image caption Activists called for reform of the lese majeste law after Ampon was convicted and jailed last year

He was charged under the Computer Crimes Act and lese majeste law, which is designed to protect the monarchy.

Critics say both laws have been increasingly politicised and used to curb free speech in Thailand. Activists have called for the laws to be reformed.

A number of foreigners have been convicted of the offence in recent years, but they are often quickly pardoned and deported from the country.

Some Thai academics and writers have fled the country for fear of being denounced.

In one current high-profile case, the webmaster of a liberal news website has been put on trial for allegedly failing to remove offensive comments posted by readers quickly enough.

The verdict for the case is due at the end of this month.

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