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Swiss faces 75 years for insulting Thai king

Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej Keystone

A Swiss who defaced images of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej has been convicted of lèse majesté and damaging property and now faces up to 75 years in a Thai jail.

This content was published on March 12, 2007 - 15:17

The 57-year-old reversed his earlier plea and pleaded guilty at a hearing held behind closed doors to minimise the disrespect to King Bhumibol. Sentencing was set for March 29.

"He has pleaded guilty to five acts of lèse majesté," confirmed Jacques Lauer from the Swiss embassy in Bangkok on Monday, adding that the man's general condition was fine.

Lèse majesté – the crime of violating majesty, an offense against the dignity of a reigning sovereign or against a state – carries a penalty of three to 15 years in jail in Thailand, one of the few countries that prosecute strictly anything deemed to demean the royal family.

The Swiss was arrested in December in the northern city of Chiang Mai, where he has lived for ten years, after black paint was sprayed on several portraits of the 79-year-old king, the world's longest-reigning monarch.

Police reports said the Swiss was drunk when the portraits were defaced on December 5, the king's birthday and a national holiday.

"Revealing the details of this case does not benefit anybody because it involves the king and the monarchy," said prosecutor Bhanu Kwanyuen, adding only that the Swiss is accused of defacing five posters and faces a penalty of between three and 15 years in prison for each one.

"In every Thai constitution, the king is revered and worshipped, and he cannot be insulted," Bhanu said. "Thai people cannot accept this act of insulting the king."

The military launched a separate investigation into the incident, saying the Swiss's act raised suspicion that he was hired by someone opposed to the coup on September 19 that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Fair cop

The Swiss, wearing orange-brown prison clothes with iron shackles on his ankles and wrists, said nothing to reporters on Monday.

He had previously blamed a German who had fled to the Philippines, but he might have reassessed his options when told he was caught on surveillance cameras, there were several witnesses and he had black paint on his fingers when hauled in by police.

His guilty plea could help reduce the sentence, but he would almost certainly spend time in jail, his lawyer Komkrit Kunyodying said.

The case has received almost no coverage in the Thai press and Monday's hearing was covered mainly by reporters from foreign newspapers and news agencies, who were barred from the hearing.

Close Thais

King Bhumibol has a close connection to Switzerland.

In 1933 he and his family left Thailand for Switzerland, where he continued his secondary education at the École Nouvelle de la Suisse Romande in Chailly-sur-Lausanne. He was studying science at Lausanne University when his elder brother was crowned King of Thailand.

For most Thais, only the most delicate portrayal of the royal family is acceptable and foreigners are expected to show similar respect.

Other foreigners have run foul of the law occasionally, but jail terms are rare.

A French businessman was arrested in 1994 for insulting the monarchy during a Thai Airways flight from London with two members of the royal family on board. He was later acquitted after apologising.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

4,000 Swiss live in Thailand.
150 Swiss firms do business in Thailand.
150,000 Swiss tourists visit Thailand every year.
Swiss exports to Thailand have trebled in the past decade to SFr934 million ($746 million).
Swiss imports from Thailand have almost doubled over the same period to SFr723 million.
Thailand is Switzerland's second-largest trading partner in the region, after Singapore.
Switzerland is also well-known in Thailand since King Bhumipol spent seven years of his childhood in Switzerland.

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King Bhumibol Adulyadej

King Bhumibol Adulyadej was born in Massachusetts, the United States, in 1927 and ascended the throne in 1946, making him the world's longest-serving current head of state.

His official powers are limited, but he wields enormous influence because of popular backing.

In 1948 Bhumibol was driving on the Geneva-Lausanne highway when he crashed into a braking truck, incurring cuts on his face that cost him the sight in his right eye.

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