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Thai monarch pardons imprisoned Swiss

King Bhumibol is deeply respected in Thailand

(Keystone)

King Bhumibol has pardoned a Swiss man who was given a ten-year prison sentence for spraying paint on images of the monarch.

The long-time Thailand resident has been ordered to leave the country. The Swiss embassy in the capital Bangkok has confirmed the pardon, which coincides with the Thai new year.

The 57-year-old man last month became the first foreigner in at least a decade convicted under strict Thai laws protecting the monarchy.

Police and prison officials in the northern city of Chiang Mai confirmed the man had been transferred on Wednesday to a police station in the city prior to deportation.

"The king in his kindness has granted him a pardon and he has been transferred from prison and is in the process of being deported from the country," Chiang Mai police Colonel Prachuab Wongsuk told The Associated Press news agency.

"We are working to ensure his return to Switzerland as soon as possible," declared Jean-Philippe Jeannerat, spokesman for the Swiss foreign ministry.

The man was caught by surveillance cameras in early December spraying black paint on five outdoor posters of King Bhumibol in Chiang Mai, where he lived.

Strict laws

Bhumibol, who is greatly loved by Thais and regarded by some as semi-divine, is protected from reproach by strict laws that forbid any criticism of the monarchy.

The Swiss, who had lived in Thailand for ten years, pleaded guilty in March to five counts of lèse majesté, or insulting the monarchy. He had faced a maximum of 75 years in prison.

According to court testimony, the Swiss had been drinking before he defaced the images of the king.

The vandalism coincided with Bhumibol's 79th birthday, which was celebrated across Thailand with fireworks and prayers.

Millions of portraits of the king, who is the world's longest-serving monarch, were hung around the country late last year to honour his birthday.

The case of the Swiss cast a rare spotlight on Thailand's strict lèse majesté laws, which have remained virtually unchanged since the creation of the country's first criminal code in 1908, despite the overthrow of an absolute monarchy in 1932.

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.
Thailand's King Bhumibol spent seven years of his childhood in Switzerland.

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Swiss law

Under the Swiss penal code, anyone who insults a foreign state as embodied by the head of state, its government, a diplomatic representative or official delegate meeting for a conference in Switzerland, can get a prison sentence of up to three years or a fine.

The same applies to international organisations based or meeting in Switzerland.

Anyone who willfully tears down, damages or publicly insults an official symbol of the country will be eligible for a prison sentence of three years or a fine.

In 2002 a rightwing Swiss parliamentarian raised objections about how the Swiss flag was depicted on the controversial cover of a US book on Switzerland during the Holocaust era. The government said there was no legal basis for action against the author as a private person.

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