By Amy Sawitta Lefevre

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A court in Thailand has dismissed the case against a man whose brother accused him of insulting the monarchy, letting him walk free after 11 months in prison.

Thailand's 85-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej is often portrayed as an almost divine figure and, under tough lese-majeste laws, anything deemed an insult or a threat to the monarchy is punishable by up to 15 years in jail.

Yuthapoom Martnok, 36, had been accused by his elder brother, Thanawat Martnok, of defaming the royal family during a conversation.

"There is insufficient evidence to prove the accused broke the law," a judge at a Bangkok criminal court said on Friday. "The brothers fought bitterly in the past so it is possible that the law was used by one brother to get back at the other."

Critics say the lese-majeste law is used as a political tool to discredit and silence opponents. They also say police are obliged to follow up all complaints even when, as in the current case, there seems to be little public interest in pursuing them.

"That a court dismissed the case is an encouraging sign," said David Streckfuss, an American expert on lese-majeste at Thailand's Khon Kaen University.

"It would have been worrying had the court decided to try the case because it would have set a precedent for a whole new level of invasion of privacy for things related to lese-majeste."

Yuthapoom said his brother had falsely accused him in a bid to grab control of a car-cleaning-liquid business the two once ran together. The business is now controlled by Thanawat.

"Justice was served today. I can now get on with living my life," Yutthapoom said.

(Additional reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat; Editing by Alan Raybould)

 

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