UPDATED: Lèse majesté vigilantism and Thailand’s political crisisBy Saksith Saiyasombut & Siam Voices Apr 23, 2014 11:00AM UTC
UPDATE (April 23): The head of the newly created radical royalist cyber-vigilante group has filed a lèse majesté charge against Ms. “Rose” himself. In separate story on Wednesday, Kamol Duangphasuk, better known among the red shirts as a poet under his pen name “Maineung K. Kunthee” has been shot dead by unknown assailants. “Maineung” was also known to be an anti-lèse majesté activist.
ORIGINAL STORY (April 22)
As Thailand’s political crisis lingers on, the country’s draconian lèse majesté law is still being applied, as two related cases show. Moreover, a new online vigilante group is making sure it stays that way.
The words Wutthipong Kotchathammakhun spoke into the camera were as straightforward as they were blunt. The man more commonly known as red shirt activist and radio talk-show host “Ko Tee” has always been more outspoken than the mainstream umbrella red shirt organization, the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), and he also doesn’t shy away from openly criticizing the monarchy.
In a documentary by VICE News on the current Thai political crisis posted on YouTube earlier this month, “Ko Tee” implies that anti-government protest leader Suthep Thuagsuban “is only the figurehead” and points to somebody higher behind the protest movement.
The reporter asks Kotee what the red-shirts’ demands are. Kotee replies: “We demand that they stop mob gatherings on the streets. We demand the electoral system. They say they love the country. But all they do is destroy it and the economy. I’m fighting the system that has dominated Thailand for a long time. Suthep is only the figurehead. I’m fighting the one who is really behind the mob. You know the meaning, right?”
After a pause, he asks the reporter if she understands the implication of his gesture. He then says the name of the alleged de facto leader of the anti-government protest.
“Hardcore red Kotee target of lèse majesté charge“, Prachatai English, April 9, 2014
The reactions were swift and even the Yingluck government were quick to pull the trigger, ordering the police to take legal actions against “Ko Tee”, who remains at large at the time of publishing. Furthermore, the authorities have also threatened the public not to share said video, since they could also be implicated for lèse majesté.
That wasn’t the only lèse majesté charge this month.
A Thai mother and father have sued their daughter, a vocal anti-establishment red-shirt residing in the UK, for posting video clips of herself defaming the monarchy after they received a storm of hate phone calls from Thai loyalists.
Thai media reported on April 17 that Surapong and Somchintra Amornpat filed a police complaint against their daughter Chatwadee Amornpat, 34, who is now working as a hair stylist in London and holds British citizenship.
Declaring herself a “progressive red shirt” and republican, Chatwadee, aka Rose, recorded several video clips, voicing her opinions on the Thai political conflict and attacking the monarchy and published them on her Facebook profile. (…)
Her parents decided to press charges against her because they were threatened by phone calls from people in Thailand. Pressing charges is to show that they do not condone their daughter’s actions, the parents said, adding that they have warned her to stop defaming the King.
“I want people to understand that just because a daughter is doing something wrong, it doesn’t mean the parents are also guilty, because we don’t condone such actions,” Khaosod English quoted Surapong as saying.
“Parents sue daughter for lèse majesté“, Prachatai English, April 19, 2014
While “Rose” is in the United Kingdom, she could be arrested if she returns in Thailand. What is more striking in this case is not only that the parents are filing a lèse majesté complaint against their own daughter, but also the apparent climate of fear in the form of the threats made against the parents.
Such a climate of fear and pre-emptive social obedience – something we have mentioned a few times here when it comes to (over-)emphasizing one’s loyalty to the monarchy – has now gained another supporter in form of an online vigilante group. The Facebook group, roughly translated to the “Organisation to Eradicate the Nation’s Trash” (“องค์กรเก็บขยะแผ่นดิน” in Thai), has taken it upon itself to, as the name implies, to “exterminate” those that in their view “insult, defame and discredit the monarchy.” The group, opened by a former military doctor called Dr Rienthong Naenna, has as of writing more than 140,000 likes since its launch a little over a week ago.
Pro-monarchist vigilantism online is not a new phenomenon in Thailand – at one point in recent history it was even state-sponsored. Those accused of being critical of the monarchy have often been the target of cyber witch hunts. Victims of such attacks have often have their personal details and contact information disclosed in public.
But the aforementioned group is seemingly upping the ante:
Mongkutwattana General Hospital director Rienthong Nanna, who unveiled his new Rubbish Collection Organisation (RCO) last Wednesday, yesterday warned critics that he would “respond with violence” to any violent attacks committed against his supporters.
It came as Dr Rienthong claimed yesterday that about 7pm on Saturday he saw “suspicious-looking men” in three cars lurking outside his house on Chaeng Watthana Road. (…)
Dr Rienthong said he was working on the establishment of a “People’s Army to Protect the Monarchy”, which would recruit people in every region (…). He also invited retired military and police officers who are loyal to the King to a meeting (…) to discuss the establishment of “a special task force of old soldiers” to help the National Police Office punish perpetrators of the lese majeste law.
However, Dr Rienthong told the Bangkok Post that his “People’s Army” and the soldiers task force are not intended to persecute or use violence against fellow Thais. Their mission will be only to look for lese majeste suspects and bring them to justice. He denied the RCO is a rogue organisation and vowed that it will operate within the law, without links to political or business groups.
“Monarchists vow to fight ‘armed threat’“, Bangkok Post, April 20, 2014
Even if the online mob does not translate its vigilantism into the real life, it does plant yet another dangerous seed in the already hatred-filled plains by naming their perceived enemies as “trash” and vowing to collect and “eradicate” them. The radical monarchists are setting a dangerous precedent, which some observers have compared to the Thammasat massacre of 1976. The holier-than-thou mindset of those claiming to defend the monarchy is further polarizing an already emotionally charged political crisis and could damage the monarchy in the long run more than they’re actually protecting it.
About the author:
Saksith Saiyasombut blogs about Thai politics and current affairs since 2010 and works as freelance foreign TV correspondent. Read his full bio on about.me/saksith.