Two Thais await sentence for 'insulting' royals in play

Bangkok: Two young Thais accused of insulting the monarchy in a university play braced for sentencing today as the ruling junta intensifies its crackdown on perceived royal slurs under the kingdom's controversial lese majeste law.

Student Patiwat Saraiyaem, 23, and activist Porntip Mankong, 26, pleaded guilty to defamation after their arrest last August, nearly a year after "The Wolf Bride", a satire set in a fictional kingdom, was performed at Bangkok's Thammasat University.

They were each charged with one count of lese majeste linked to the play, which marked the 40th anniversary of a pro-democracy student protest at the university that was brutally crushed by the military regime in October 1973.

Police are hunting for at least six others involved in the performance for allegedly violating "112" -- the feared section of the Thai criminal code which carries up to 15 years in jail for each count of insulting the king, queen, heir or regent.

Of those on the wanted list, at least two have fled Thailand, joining dozens of academics, activists and political opponents of the coup in self-exile amid a surge in royal defamation cases since the military seized power in May.

Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 87, is revered by many in the country as a demi-god and shielded by one of the world's most draconian royal defamation laws.

The Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights said at least 40 people have been arrested since the coup -- seven of them have already been sentenced to between three and 15 years in prison.

Critics say the lese majeste law has been used as a tool to suppress political dissent, noting that many of those charged have been linked to the opposition Red Shirt movement.

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