A Thai student arrested for sharing a BBC profile of Thailand’s new King on Facebook has been awarded a prestigious human rights award.
However, Jatupat Boonpattararaksa remains in pre-trial detention and faces a lengthy prison term under the country’s harsh lese majesty law.
Mr Jatupat’s parents are in South Korea to accept the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights 2017 and $US14,000 ($19,000) prize money on his behalf.
Previous recipients have included Myanmar’s prisoner of conscience and now leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and East Timor’s rebel fighter and former prime minister Xanana Gusmao.
“Jatupat has been doing a lot of human rights activities for the benefit of the public,” said Eakpant Pindavanija, director of Mahidol University’s Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, which nominated the student for the award.
While more than 2,000 people shared the BBC profile of Thailand’s new King Vajiralongkorn, only Jatupat Boonpattararaksa was charged with lese majeste, as well as violations of the Computer Crime Act.
The case is seen as a test of how the royal defamation law will be enforced under the new monarch, who succeeded his widely-revered father King Bhumibol.
Mr Jatupat — better known as “Pai” or bamboo — was initially released on bail, but that was revoked after he posted photos of himself celebrating outside court with friends.
He also declined to remove the Facebook post, arguing that would destroy the evidence before the trial.
Thai officials said he had shown disrespect to the court. Since then, the court has rejected his bail application at least six times.
Before these charges, he was best known for interrupting a speech of Prime Minister General Prauruth Chan-o-cha to raise a three fingered salute inspired by the movie The Hunger Games.
‘Everyone deserves justice’
A further controversy has broken out over a letter sent by the Thai embassy in Seoul to the organisers of the award.
“I would like to take this opportunity to point out that Mr [Jatupat] Boonpattararaksa has committed actions in violation of the laws of the Kingdom of Thailand,” wrote ambassador Sarun Charoensuwan.
“I would like to stress that Thailand supports and highly values freedom of expression, association and assembly … however these rights are not absolute and should be exercised within the boundary of the law.”
The student activist’s parents have demanded an apology from the Thai Government for presuming their son is guilty even before a trial date is set.
They also said his actions did not breach any terms of his bail.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs act as if the person charged in this case is already convicted for the crime,” said Eakpant Pindavanija, from the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies.
“His case has not yet been testified in court at all, so it is not correct to say that he is violating the law.
“Everyone deserves justice.”