Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn (R) presides the annual royal ploughing ceremony near the Grand Palace in Bangkok on Thursday. AFP
A Thai anti-junta activist who spent more than two years behind bars for insulting the country’s monarchy by sharing an unflattering BBC article about the king walked free Friday on a royal pardon.
Jatupat “Pai Dao Din” Boonpatararaksa, 27, was greeted by hundreds of jubilant family and friends after leaving the Khon Kaen provincial prison.
“I’m not angry with anyone, I only love democracy and freedom,” he said in a video broadcast on Facebook, adding he would continue with his activism.
The pardon comes days after King Maha Vajiralongkorn was crowned over the weekend in Thailand’s first coronation in 69 years.
The country has some of the harshest royal insult — known as lese-majeste — laws in the world and each count carries a maximum prison term of 15 years.
The law, or article 112, makes scrutiny of the wealthy and powerful royal family all but impossible inside the kingdom — including by the media who have to heavily self-censor.
Jatupat was found guilty after sharing a profile of King Maha Vajiralongkorn written by the BBC’s Thai-language service in London.
The profile contained details of 66-year-old Vajiralongkorn’s personal life that are well known inside the kingdom but rarely printed by the Thai press.
It was shared more than 2,000 times but Jatupat was the only person prosecuted.
Another pro-democracy activist who shared the article fled the country after facing similar charges.
Jatupat expressed gratitude to Vajiralongkorn for the pardon.
“It’s the mercy of the king and I am grateful.”
The activist was the first to be detained after Vajiralongkorn ascended the throne following the death of his beloved father Bhumibol Adulyadej in 2016.
Lese-majeste convictions shot up under the arch-royalist junta that seized power in a 2014 coup, but analysts say the trend has reversed under Vajiralongkorn.
Those charged with lese majeste in Thailand are almost always convicted, often behind closed doors.
Jatupat had originally been sentenced to five years but the sentence was halved after he pleaded guilty.
His lawyer said the sentence would have ended on June 19.
About 30,000 to 50,000 prisoners are expected to be released under royal pardons and many will have sentences reduced, according to the corrections department.
Thailand began the third and final day of coronation ceremonies for King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who will meet foreign diplomats and greet his subjects from atop a balcony,
King Maha Vajiralongkorn, Rama X of Thailand, was crowned on Saturday in a dazzling show of pageantry, laced with Hindu and Buddhist ritual, vowing to reign “with righteousness” on behalf of the Thai people.
Musician and activist Chaiamorn “Ammy” Kaewwiboonpan, 32 was arrested in Ayutthaya province north of Bangkok and is accused of setting fire to the portrait on Sunday in front of a Bangkok prison where four prominent activists are being held.
President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan has directed that funeral prayers in absentia be performed for the victims of the earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria, following Juma's prayers (Friday prayers) in all mosques across the country.
Rescue workers continued to pull living people from the damaged homes but hope was starting to fade amid freezing temperatures more than three full days since the quake hit.
The earthquake will start in Afghanistan and pass through Pakistan and India before ending in the Indian Ocean, he said, adding these areas are the most prone to large earthquakes.