A prominent Thai labour rights activists and magazine editor was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Wednesday after being convicted on two counts of royal insult.

Somyot Pruksakasemsuk was sentenced to five years on each of the two charges – the latest case in Thailand’s much-debated lese majeste laws – despite calls by rights groups to release the editor of the now-defunct Voice of Taksin, reports Bangkok Post.

The criminal court claimed two articles published in February and March 2010 under pseudonyms in the publication contained content that defamed the royal family and argued that Somyot was aware of that but printed the stories anyway.

Human Rights Watch said the harsh verdict for “insulting the monarchy” is a violation of free speech in Thailand.

“The courts seem to have adopted the role of chief protector of the monarchy at the expense of the right of free expression,” says Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“The court’s ruling appears to be more about Mr. Somyot’s strong support for amending the lese majest law than about any harm incurred by the monarchy”.