Rule #1 in Thailand: don’t insult the king. Even the new one who spends more time in Germany than in the Kingdom. One Thai airline is in trouble now for a humorous tweet some have deemed an insult to the king and royal family.
Thai Airline In Trouble For Tweeted Deemed Offensive To King
King Maha Vajiralongkorn ascended to the throne in 2016 after the death of his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who reigned over Thailand for 70 years as king. The royal family in Thailand is a bigger deal than even the United Kingdom and strict “lese majeste” laws make it illegal to defame the monarchy. Offenses under this law carry a prison term of up to 15 years.
But King Vajiralongkorn, rumored to be the richest monarch in the world and worth up to $70 billion, has faced intense public backlash for his reputation as a playboy and a violent sibling to his sister, Princess Sirindhorn. Furthermore, Vajiralongkorn spent much of the pandemic at the Grand Hotel Sonnenbichl in the German state of Bavaria, near the Austrian border, sparking further outrage.
But even as protests again Vajiralongkorn sprung up, strict laws serve as a chilling barrier to free speech. That did not stop Thai Vietjet, a subsidiary of Vietnam-based Vietjet Aviation, from posting the following cheeky tweet on April 1st:
The tweet announced new service between Nan and Munich, Germany. Nan is the province in which Sineenat Wongvajiraphakdi, Vajiralongkorn’s “royal consort” (he also has a wife, Queen Suthida) was born. There was no mention of the king or the consort in the tweet.
After some members of the public expressed outrage, Thai Vietjet deleted the tweet, apologized, suspended the staff members responsible for he tweet, and promised an investigation. Its CEO, Woranate Laprabang, even issued a groveling apology:
“I would like to apologise to the Thai people once again for such incident.”
Even so, Srisuwan Janya, a celebrity attorney in Thailand, has filed a police complaint, alleging the tweet “showed intent to offend.” Police will now investigate. No charges have been announced.
Respecting The King Is Serious Business
I know first hand how serious it is to insult the king. I had a rough first visit to Thailand in 2010 that included a harrowing encounter. My brother and I were on a boat and attempting to get off at a dock down the Chao Phraya River. A “bouncer” demanded payment from us in order to step onto the dock.
I protested. He got up in my face and blocked my path. Seeing that he was wider and taller than me, I eventually pulled out the money (20 Baht each) and thew in on the ground in protest.
The guy decked me on the head with a force I’ve not felt since then…
He picked up the money, held in up in my face, pointed to King Bhumibol, and screamed, “THAT MY KING! THAT MY KING!”
My introduction to the Thai Royal family…
> Read More: Robbed and Battered in Bangkok
I find this entire situation deplorable and lament that a country that I love has such strict polices prohibiting free speech, which I view as a natural right with very little valid limitations (though actions have consequences, a different matter). Was the tweet a poke at the royal family? You could certainly make that argument…but it was innocuous enough that it the opportunistic public outrage over this seems very misplaced.
Wow! Who would have expected this type behavior from what appears to be such a reputable country.
Reputable country?? Did I miss your sarcasm?? Those in charge of the kingdom of Thailand are very far from reputable. The piece of shit number 10 deserves to be insulted-Ayy HIA!!! That’s what I think.
Thailand is sadly a semi fascist state that’s totally corrupt. The arbitrary laws and powers those in charge have are frightening!!
It’s a great country to visit that has a lot of potential. With those in charge it won’t be able to fulfill it….
Given that free speech is a fundamental human right, I wonder where are the sanctions and calls for regime change in Europe that criminalizes speech or here? Where are the trade bans by the U.S. government on Europe and this place? Where are the boycotts? Jail and prison for people who engage in free speech (telling the truth in Europe and this place is a crime if it is offensive to the select groups who are allowed to show offense but not others) is a grave abuse and injustice. People who talk of Russia should recognize there is no more freedom here (Europe) or there (Thailand). The war on drugs kills more people each year than in this SP in Ukraine so don’t differentiate.
How high on drugs were you when you typed this?
I like this blog but sometimes you are absolutely clueless. Two things that will rarely get you anywhere useful in any country in East Asia: 1) throwing a tantrum and 2) lecturing people, particularly the elite, on the value of unfettered free speech. Don’t like social structures built around stability organized by a small elite? Don’t let the door hit you on the butt leaving. Vietjet is same group that features provocative pics of women in its ads for other countries. Their entire model is built on free advertising from controversy; certainly not service. On their best day they are Ryanair with a better buy onboard menu. This ad was not a humorous misunderstanding. It was designed to offend – that’s their business model. Holding up a bunch of Vietnamese crony capitalists as martyrs for free speech paving a path to more democratic Thailand is the type of thing only an absolutely clueless western would seek to do.
You should be able to insult your government. It’s not a western right – it’s a fundamental human right.
Did you support the crackdown in Hong Kong prior to the pandemic?
“Order” or stability is not the highest human end. Westerners (Americans in particular) would do well to think more collectively and speech certainly has consequences. But the trope of protecting corrupt leaders or policies via lese-majeste laws undermines the bedrock principle that a government should have the consent of those that it governs and that humans are not granted rights from the government, but relinquish individual rights pursuant to collective actions problems. Certain inalienable rights are not the government’s to take away.
Actually, no. Insulting public figures or institutions is not a fundamental right. Free speech in general sense may be a fundamental right but there are limits in every culture including the US as enshrined in hate crime legislation on both state and federal level that have deemed speech, even in absence of physical harm, as potential hate crimes. The well worn example of not being able to scream fire in a movie theater still holds in most places as illegal based on risk of harm to others. You seem to enjoy North Africa and Middle East. Try loudly insulting the prophet during your next trip and let us know how it goes. Corrupt leaders or widespread public sector corruption are not uniquely associated with governments that limit criticism of public institutions. Nearly every large city in democratically governed countries has its own brand of corruption. Modern LA is hardly the city on a hill. As for Hong Kong, it’s a bit of leap from don’t speak ill of the king to protesting a law that allows for forcible extradition to another country with death penalty (China) if you criticize local political leadership. I recognize you mean well but in certain quarters you sound like an updated version of the ugly American that just doesn’t understand why “others” don’t see things the way you do. Very California 2.0. Perhaps we should just be nice to other people. And when in Thailand, be extra nice to the king. simple.
Some more thoughts on this. First, I am against hate crimes legislation (which are different than targeting the degree of mens rea). Second, I don’t dispute that there are sweeping restrictions on free speech in many Middle East nations. I could not even visit my church website while in Bahrain – it was blocked. That doesn’t excuse Thailand. Third, I wasn’t making a relative comparison – I am happy to stipulate how corrupt Los Angeles and other U.S. cities are. And fourth, you must understand that your condescension about “meaning well” and labeling me as an “ugly American 2.0” as if I am an ignorant rube who simply does know better is quite disappointing coming from you. I don’t make observations about free speech or this world from my mother’s basement or an echo chamber of like-minded thinking. I’ve seen seen the chilling effect of speech restrictions all over the world, including in China, Thailand, Russia, Belarus, Cuba, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Azerbaijan, Burma, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. So when you make well-meaning comments like the one above, I must say that I see them as incredibly uninformed.
But yes, when I am in Thailand, especially as a guest, I respect the king…
That’s a pretty wild story. But usually just don’t tweet or do dumb or controversial stuff and you’ll be fine. I had a pleasant enough stay in Singapore for example.
Meanwhile, let’s go brandon!
There’s something funny to me about Vietnam teaching people about freedom of speech
what the hell is in Nan to get a flight to Munich?
That king is universally hated by his people. The only reason he has not been overthrown is because people do not have the weapons to take on the military.
Can gun control be detrimental to peace at home? I do not know, but we were told a guy like trump would never get elected but he was. Given that, I do not trust liberals on gun control anymore. Young kids being shot in school is a small price to pay to be able to defend our democracy.
If you find it so deplorable, don’t go there. Simple really. And since you are such a vanguard of free speech, I am sure you would be happy for me to say [redacted] off then mate…
He’s the worst excuse for a king in Thailand’s history. Doesn’t even live in Thailand.