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.