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Two Thai actors have been jailed for insulting the monarchy after performing a stage play about a fictional ruler in 2013.

The pair, Patiwat Saraiyaem, 23, and Pornthip Mankong, 26, were given five-year jail sentences on Tuesday by a Bangkok central court under Thailand’s strict ‘lese majeste’ laws. Their sentences were cut to two and a half years because they confessed to the crime.

The play “A Wolf’s Bride” was performed only once, at Thammasat University on Oct, 13, 2013, on the eve of the 40th anniversary of a student uprising at the university. Their performance was recorded and subsequently distributed on social media.

The pair were arrested in August 2014 and have been incarcerated ever since. Six appeals to be released on bail were rejected.

There were emotional scenes at the Bangkok court as the sentences were announced, and afterwards some supporters of the two actors chased police vans that carried them to jail.

The military regime that took power in May 2014 has sharply increased use of the ‘lese majeste’ laws, prompting outcry from human rights groups within Thailand and abroad.

The pair said that they would not appeal the ruling. If the ruling is considered as final, the pair can instead seek a royal pardon. The next round of pardons is scheduled for April 1.

“This is an assault on freedom of expression. It is appalling that Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Mankong have been jailed just for staging a play. Since taking power last year, Thailand’s military authorities have made unprecedented use of the lèse-majesté law to silence and target critics who are simply peacefully exercising their human rights,” said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s research director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

“The pair should never have had to stand trial in the first place, and the verdict should be overturned and sentences expunged. Their guilty plea should not be considered as an admission of criminal responsibility as the courts regularly reduce sentences for defendants who have pleaded guilty.”

Thailand ranks as the 134th most free country for press freedom, and dropped four places last year, according to the Reporters Without Borders organization.