You may have heard the term ‘lèse-majesté’, but if you haven’t, you may soon become familiar with it if you’re living in Thailand at this difficult time. The term is a generic one referring to the defamation of a monarch, in other words, treason. The lèse-majesté law in Thailand protects the senior members of the royal family from insult and threat, the law, article 112 of the criminal code states that anyone who “defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir-apparent or the regent” will be punished with up to 15 years in prison. The law has been in place since 1908 and penalties were toughened 40 years ago. The vast majorities of Thai people will be mourning the loss of their beloved father, but at this time, online criticism is beginning to surface and it’s not going unnoticed.
The government has responded to three incidents since the passing of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej and has called for people to behave respectfully and refrain from posting “inappropriate content” online. The first of these incidents occurred in Phuket’s Muang district on Friday. Crowds gathered to voice their displeasure at seeing what they construed as negative comments towards the King on a young man’s Facebook page. The crowd of 1,000 people gathered at the man’s father’s business but were dispersed and authorities stated that the man’s post did not “directly insult” the king.
An even larger crowd gathered in Phang Nga on Saturday to protest a social media post made by a military conscript, attached to Third Naval Area Command in Phang Nga. After three hours of protests the man was arrested and authorities have promised legal action against him. The news was received well by protestors who then proceeded to sing the national anthem.
The latest in this string of incidents, on Sunday, occurred in Koh Samui district where a group of 100 demanded the arrest of a local woman who was accused of lèse-majesté. She was taken from her home and eventually bowed to protestors. It is believed that she may be charged under the law.
The Foreign Ministry has also taken this time to inform the outside world that the response by Thai people to the death of their King has been greater than is being reported, suggesting that the number of people paying tribute at the Royal Palace is much greater than is being reported by foreign media. The ministry stated that they are doing everything they can to support those that want to mourn their father of 70 years.