Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn will pardon or cut the prison sentences of up to 150,000 inmates, officials announced on Tuesday.
The move is an unprecedented act of “mercy” as Vajiralongkorn reaches out to needy people following the death of his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in October at 88 after more than 70 years on the throne.
Adulyadej’s son, 64-year-old Vajiralongkorn, was declared king in early December, according to Agence France-Presse.
Since his proclamation as King Rama X, the new monarch has provided relief for flood victims, opened a town hall and been honored in a tribute video shown in movie theaters.
While Adulyadej was a unifying figure in Thailand, his son, who has been divorced three times, does not have the same level of devotion from the public which has caught a glimpse into the Royals’ lives.
But like his father, Vajiralongkorn is protected from heavy criticism by a royal defamation law that carries a prison sentence of up to 15 years per charge.
Self-censorship across the media, academia and arts is rooted in Thai culture due to the law.
The prisoner pardons comes after several public appearances by the new king, whose more than 40 years as crown prince were distinguished by extreme shyness of publicity and long trips overseas.
“This is the first opportunity since his majesty’s ascension to show his mercy,” according to a statement published on Sunday in the Royal Gazette.
Pardons occurred every year under Adulyadej’s reign, including women imprisoned for first offenses, inmates who served only one third of their sentences, and prisoners who were disabled or seriously ill.
The official order did not say how many people are in prison for insulting the royals, but more than 80 people have reportedly been prosecuted under the law since mid-2014, according to legal monitoring group iLaw.
“The inmates will be looked at on a case by case basis at each individual corrections facility,” Chanchao Chaiyanukit, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Justice, was quoted as saying by Reuters.
Convicted murderers and rapists will not be eligible for release or have their sentences cut, officials said.
The corrections department of Thailand revealed a prison population of 321,347 in the country, with about 70 percent imprisoned for drug offenses.
The BBC is being investigated in Thailand for allegedly defaming Vajiralongkorn after a profile of the newly crowned king was published online and sparked outrage on social media, The Independent reported.