Asia

Thai student activist released on royal pardon

Jatupat Boonpattararaksa with his family Image copyright BBC Thai
Image caption Jatupat Boonpattararaksa was greeted by his family

Thailand has released a student activist jailed for sharing a profile of King Maha Vajiralongkorn on Facebook.

Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, better known as Pai Dao Din, received a royal pardon shortly before the end of a two-and-a-half year prison term.

He was arrested in 2016 for sharing the profile published by BBC Thai, soon after the king ascended the throne.

Thailand's strict lese-majeste laws ban criticism of the monarchy.

His release was part of a royal pardon for tens of thousands of prisoners to celebrate the new king's coronation which took place earlier this month.

Mr Jatupat left prison early on Friday morning and was reunited with his family and friends who were waiting outside.

"I had been jailed for so long that I forgot what freedom was like," he told reporters while embracing his parents.

Mr Jatupat, one of dozens of prisoners freed on Friday, promised to abide by the country's laws but said he would continue advocating for human rights.

Declaring his love for freedom and democracy, he told fellow activists to "fight with love rather than revenge".

He was one of more than 2,600 people to share the online profile published two days after the new king ascended the throne in December 2016.

An opponent of the military-backed government who has taken part in numerous protests, he was the only person to be prosecuted over the article.

After initially contesting the charges, Mr Jatupat eventually agreed to plead guilty.

Pleading guilty in lese-majeste cases can significantly reduce sentences in Thailand, where punishment can be severe.

While the United Nations has repeatedly called on Thailand to amend the law, the government says it is necessary to protect the monarchy which is widely revered across the country.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Thailand's newly crowned King Maha Vajiralongkorn waves to crowds

Mr Jatupat's release comes amid fears for three missing Thai activists who, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), have previously been accused by authorities of insulting the monarchy.

Siam Theerawut, Kritsana Thapthai and Chucheep Chiwasut were reportedly arrested in Vietnam earlier this year.

HRW says it is believed they were handed over to Thai authorities on 8 May but Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister, Prawit Wongsuwan, denied this.

"Vietnam has not co-ordinated transfers. We have not received any request. If there is, it would be through the foreign ministry and police," he told reporters.

In December, the bodies of two aides to a prominent opponent of the Thai monarchy were found in the Mekong River in north-eastern Thailand.

The pair were members of a group which fled into exile in Laos in 2014 after Thailand's military coup.

Thai officials denied any involvement but the incident was seen by activists as a warning not to question the status of the monarchy.

Since the coup, human rights groups have accused the military of using the country's strict lese-majeste laws and other legislation to silence critics.

In 2016, Maha Vajiralongkorn became Thailand's new king after the death of his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Last weekend, King Maha Vajiralongkorn was crowned in an elaborate ceremony lasting several days.

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