SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A Thai law student arrested for sharing a critical article about his country’s new king that was posted on Facebook is this year’s winner of South Korea’s most prestigious human rights award.
Organizers for the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights said the parents of Jatupat “Pai Dao Din” Boonpattararaksa will receive the award on his behalf Thursday at a ceremony in Gwangju city.
Police in Thailand arrested Jatupat in December for sharing a profile about King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkunan that was posted on Facebook by the Thai-language service of the BBC. The article included mentions of the king’s personal life when he was crown prince, including details of three marriages that ended in divorce and other material Thai news media are prohibited from publishing.
Under Thai law, insulting the monarchy is a crime that carries a prison term of three to 15 years. Critics say the country uses the law to silence political dissidents.
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Busadee Santipitaks, spokeswoman for the Thai foreign ministry, said it had “no particular reaction” to the award ceremony.
Jatupat, who was indicted in February and has been denied bail several times, is the only person to be charged over posting the BBC article, although it was shared nearly 3,000 times. He is a prominent member of Dao Din, a small student organization known for its community rights work in northeastern Thailand, such as working with villagers opposed to a gold mine in their area.
Jatupat had been put under close watch by Thai authorities since November 2014, when he and several other Dao Din members held up a three-fingered salute, a resistance gesture borrowed from “The Hunger Games” movies, during a speech by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, chief of a military junta that took power in a coup six months earlier.
Jatupat was also among about a dozen students arrested in June 2015 for participating in anti-government protests, before a military court released the students 12 days later, according to the award’s organizers.
The May 18 Memorial Foundation, which organizes the Gwangju Prize, said in a statement that Jatupat’s “strength, courage and indomitable struggle” showed he is “willing to sacrifice his safety and future to protect democracy and the rights and freedom of his people.”
The prize, which rewards contributions in human rights and democracy, was created in 2000 to honor a democratic uprising in Gwangju in May 1980 that South Korea’s then-military dictatorship violently suppressed, leaving hundreds dead.
An official from the May 18 Foundation said it requested that Thailand release Jatupat so he could receive the award personally, but the Thai government sent a refusal through its embassy in South Korea earlier this month, saying that the country was handling Jatuput properly based on its laws. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, citing office rules.