Thai Vietjet’s official twitter account posted a joke on 1 April that caused a lot of controversy and could even lead to the imprisonment of the staff.
1. The twitter post
The April Fools tweet suggested the low-cost airline would launch a new international route between the Thai province of Nan and Munich, in Germany. Royalists took this as an attempt to insult Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who is reported to spend a lot of time in Germany, and his Royal Consort Sineenat Wongvajiraphakdi, who was born in the Nan region.
The post mentioned neither the king, nor his consort, but activist lawyer Srisuwan Janya filed a police complaint of royal insult and computer crimes. Srisuwan is “well-known in Thailand as a prolific filer of complaints with police”, CNN says, and he claims to have filed over 1,000 police complaints for different problems, among which consumer fraud, corruption and environmental issues.
The tweet has been removed and the airline’s CEO Woranate Laprabang apologised the following day: “I would like to apologize to the Thai people once again for the incident”. He also said that senior management did not know about the joke and the staff responsible for posting it have been suspended pending an investigation. However, Srisuwan insists that, since the tweet showed clear intent to offend, an apology is not enough, which is why he proceeded with his complaint.
The police are investigating the allegations and Kissana Phathanacharoen, Thai deputy police spokesman, told Reuters that they are reviewing all the facts to determine “whether there was any criminal intent”.
2. Thailand’s Lèse-majesté Law
Lèse-majesté refers to insult to royalty. A lot of monarchies around the world have Lèse-majesté Laws, prohibiting people from bringing insult to royal families, but Thailand is one of the strictest examples.
In the country, the king is considered of divine descent and thus above criticism. Article 8 of the constitution mentions that “the King shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated. No person shall expose the King to any sort of accusation or action”.
The strength of Lèse-majesté is that it’s unclear where its lines are. That’s its power.David Streckfuss, author of “Truth on Trial in Thailand”
Anyone violating the law can be charged with 3 to 15 years in prison for each count. The law, however, does not offer a clear definition of what constitutes an insult to the monarchy, so anything can be reported and the police are obliged to investigate each complaint, otherwise they could themselves breach the law. Furthermore, it does not matter what the person’s intent is, David Streckfuss, author of “Truth on Trial in Thailand”, says “There are incidents where the reporter has been charged for quoting someone else and the person who said it was not charged”.
In 2020, a series of student protests started, criticizing the king for time spent outside the country. CNN reports that at least 183 people charged with insulting the monarchy have been arrested since. Another extreme example is 27-year-old Thanakorn Siripaiboon, who faces up to 37 years in prison for merely liking a Facebook post depicting a sarcastic photo of former King Bhumibol’s dog.