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Court in Thailand upholds contentious royal slur law

BANGKOK -- Two Thai “royal insult” suspects on Wednesday lost a landmark legal case against the kingdom's controversial lese majeste rules as a court ruled the law was in line with the constitution.

The pair, a former magazine publisher and a CD vendor, were the first to challenge the tough legislation in the Constitutional Court, as part of their defense against charges that could result in long prison terms.

The judges unanimously agreed that the rules — which carry a maximum penalty of 15 years in jail on each count — were in line with the charter, according to a court statement.

“The constitution upholds and protects the institution of the monarchy which is part of Thailand's constitutional democracy,” it said.

It was the tribunal's first ruling on the constitutionality of Article 112 of the Thai criminal code, said Karom Polpornklang, a lawyer for one of the two suspects, Somyot Pruksakasemsuk.

Somyot was arrested in April 2011 for two articles deemed critical of the royals which appeared in a magazine he edited.

The second suspect, Aekkachai Hongkangwan, was detained a month earlier for allegedly selling CDs containing content considered offensive to the monarchy.

The royal family is an extremely sensitive subject in politically turbulent Thailand. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 84, is revered by many Thais but has been in hospital since September 2009.

Rights campaigners say the lese majeste law has been politicized. They say many of those charged are linked to the “Red Shirts” movement, whose street protests in Bangkok in 2010 sparked a military crackdown that left about 90 people dead.

The Red Shirts are broadly loyal to former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled by royalist generals in 2006 and lives overseas to avoid a prison term for corruption that he contends is politically motivated.

His sister, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who took office last year after a landslide election win by Thaksin's allies, has said she will not seek to change the royal defamation law.

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