Caricature of Thai scholar raises money for dissidents

FILE - In this May 11, 2011 file photo, historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul holds flowers from his supporters as he walks out of a police station, where police heard about an article he wrote about a Thai royal family member, in Bangkok, Thailand. A Thai legal aid group said Monday, Feb. 19, 2018, that a caricature of historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul, a critic in exile of Thailand's monarchy, was auctioned online for $6,400 to be used to bail out political prisoners. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit, File)

BANGKOK — A cartoonist who lampoons Thailand's military government has done a caricature of a historian critical of the nation's monarchy and sold it in an online auction to raise money for legal aid for political dissidents, a legal aid group said Monday.

Anon Nampha of the group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, the beneficiary, said the money, about 200,000 baht ($6,400) will be used to bail out political prisoners.

The portrait, sold Saturday, depicts Somsak Jeamteerasakul with the Eiffel Tower in the background. Somsak fled from Thailand to France in 2014 after a coup by the country's royalist military, fearing for his safety and freedom. Insulting the monarchy, known as lese majeste, is punishable by three to 15 years' imprisonment per offense.

Somsak's courage in speaking out on the generally taboo subject of the monarchy made him a bit of a cult figure among some political dissidents, and his picture used to adorn T-shirts. Last April, the authorities declared it was illegal to exchange information on the internet with Somsak and two other prominent critics of the government. However, he continues to write comments on his Facebook page.

The cartoonist known as Kai Maew — Cat's Egg — publishes minimalistic but biting four-panel cartoons on his own Facebook page.

Lawyer Anon said the portrait was sold by the administrator of the cartoonist's Facebook page, and added that a committee would oversee the proceeds to determine which cases could use the money because "it is definitely not enough money for all cases involved."

Thailand's military seized power from an elected government, and has been criticized for using the lese majeste law and other legal measures to stifle political dissent. In less than a month, the junta has filed over 80 charges against activists for holding nonviolent demonstrations that called for an election to hand over power to a civilian government.

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