(AFP) – Jul 10, 2012
BANGKOK — A Thai media mogul who founded the royalist Yellow Shirt protest movement appeared in court on Tuesday accused of insulting the revered monarchy by quoting a member of the rival Red Shirts.
Sondhi Limthongkul, one of Thailand's most controversial political figures, faces up to 15 years in prison if found guilty on charges relating to excerpts of a protest speech by Daranee Charnchoengsilapakul that he repeated in 2008.
Daranee -- known as Da Torpido -- was herself jailed for 15 years under Thailand's strict lese majeste laws for the comments, which she made during political rallies four years ago.
Defence lawyer Suwat Apipak told the court on Tuesday that Sondhi had aimed to highlight Daranee's comments in the hope that police would take legal action against her.
"He did not repeat all the words said by Da," Suwat told the court. Sondhi is expected to testify in August.
The royal family is a highly sensitive topic in politically turbulent Thailand. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who is revered as a demi-god by many Thais, has been hospitalised since September 2009.
Observers say prosecutions under lese majeste legislation -- which bans criticism of the king, queen, heir or regent -- surged following a coup that removed fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Sondhi's Yellow Shirts have proved a powerful force in Thailand's colour coded politics, helping to spur the 2006 coup, which spawned the rise of the pro-Thaksin Reds.
Thailand has seen a series of rival street protests in recent years by the monarchist Yellows, who are backed by the Bangkok-based elite, and the mainly poor and working-class Red Shirts, whose 2010 rallies in the Thai capital ended in a bloody crackdown.
In February, the Criminal Court sentenced Sondhi to 20 years in prison for corporate fraud in a case dating back to the mid-1990s.
At the time, Suwat said the tycoon was appealing the verdict and had been released on bail of 10 million baht ($330,000).
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