Facebook Posts That Can Get You Arrested In Thailand
Thailand’s parliament invited Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn to assume the throne yesterday, which means the country will finally have a king after a month of mourning King Bhumibol Adulyadej. While the old king, one of Asia’s longest-ruling leaders, was a beloved symbol of national unity, the new king is a much more controversial figure
Most Thais, however, will find that they are restricted in writing about him online thanks to Thailand’s tough lèse-majesté laws, which make it illegal to criticize the monarchy.
While these laws have always been in place, a coup led by Thai military that overthrew the democratically-elected government in 2014 has led to wider criticisms of the monarchy’s role in modern Thailand. The Thai junta who now rule the country have embraced the controversial laws as a way to silence its critics.
Sixty-eight people have been charged with lèse-majesté between the 2014 coup and July 15, according to Thai rights group iLaw, and an additional 58 have been charged with sedition. In total 278 civilians were tried in military court.
Here are four ways to find yourself at online odds with the Thai royalty:
1. Make fun of the King’s dog; fined 500,000 baht with 86 days in prison
In one of the most famous recent cases of lèse-majesté, Thanakorn Siripaiboon, then a 27-year-old factory worker, was arrested in December 2015 for writing a “sarcastic” Facebook post about Tongdaeng, the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s dog, according to the Guardian. Like the king, the dog is a beloved “symbol,” but the case prompted much international outcry.
Initially facing 37 years in prison, Thanakorn’s lawyers were able to get him released on 500,000 baht ($14,000) after serving 86 days in prison. Also rather famously, when the International New York Times reported on the story, their local printer refused to print it and so they had a blank space in one of their issues.
2. Posting six photos with “critical” comments; 10 years in prison apiece
According to iLaw, Pongsak posted four photos of the King or King/Queen combo in 2013 – before the coup even took place – with comments deemed “critical,” as well as photos of some banners.
Unfortunately, more information isn’t available on the nature of the comments due to reporting restrictions in Thailand, but he received 10 years for each post by the Bangkok Military Court. His sentence, however was “halved” because he pled guilty, according to The New York Times .
Pongsak’s friend “Chayo” – who is identified this way by iLaw – was also sentenced to 18 years in prison – later cut to nine – for insulting the king in a mutual Facebook chat discussion.
3. Being married to someone who posts unflattering photos; detention and questioning
Another famous photo case saw Scottish journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall post some controversial photos that were also published by German media of the crown prince at the Munich airport in a state of disarray.
MacGregor Marshall shared the photos on his Facebook page, making notes to his followers that German publication Bild had gotten some of the information wrong in their captions. They incorrectly identified the Crown Prince’s white toy dog Fee Fee, who can be seen in the picture, as its infamous predecessor, Air Marshal Foo Foo. (It should be noted this was not a nickname, the dog was in fact, made an air marshal.)
MacGregor Marshall, who is known for his criticism of the Thai monarchy, was not in the country at the time of his post, but his wife Noppawan Bunluesilp was visiting Bangkok and was detained by the police. She was later released after much media attention.
4. Receiving a message and saying “yeah”; detention and 500,000 baht
While publicly protesting the monarchy is an offence, holding private opinions is now also worthy of a criminal conviction, as is responding to an unsolicited Facebook message.
Take the example of Patnaree Chankij, 40, the mother of Thai activist Sirawith Seritiwat. She was arrested for saying “yeah” in response to a private message making critical remarks about the monarchy. The one-word comment led to detention by the Bangkok Military Court and more headlines. Patnaree was later released on 500,000 baht bail (approximately $14,000).
Facebook has recently created a private/encrypted messenger as part of its popular Facebook Messenger app, but this might not even protect Thai critics if the military confiscates their computer and cell phone.