The adoration many Thai citizens felt for the late King Bhumibol, expressed through the near certainty of seeing pictures of the monarch on the walls of homes, restaurants and taxis throughout the nation of nearly 70 million people, has for some turned into bitter anger toward those who have allegedly insulted the monarchy in the aftermath of his death last week.
Violent mobs joining the millions of Thais dressing in black as a sign of respect for their once beloved ruler of 70 years have harassed anyone perceived as insulting the late king by talking ill of the legitimacy of the monarchy online or failing to mourn properly in recent days, such as for not being appropriately dressed, Al Jazeera reported Tuesday. Chilling videos have emerged on social media showing several violent incidents from pro-monarchy mobs across the country. In one video broadcast live Tuesday on Facebook that purported to show a mob kicking and beating a man before forcing him to bow and apologize for insulting the monarchy, the victim can be heard crying, “I didn’t mean to do it. I love the king! It’s my fault.” In another viral video, a woman who allegedly criticized the royal family on social media can be seen being forced to kneel and bow in front of a portrait of the king.
The Thai military has not been shy about enforcing the country’s severe lèse-majesté law, which gives it the authority to impose lengthy jail sentences for those found guilty of insulting the monarchy. Leaders of the military junta that seized power from the democratically elected government in a coup in 2014 regurlarly monitored internet activity and blocked websites for allegedly insulting the monarchy in 2015, according to a report from Freedom House, a Washington organization committed to detailing the state of civil liberties and political rights in foreign countries.
Since King Bhumibol's death, there has been a cry on social media from supporters of the monarchy to incite violence on those who are accused of violating "113," the criminal code that covers the feared law. Last week, the government asked its citizens to report cases of lèse-majesté to authorities and called upon internet service providers to monitor content and block inappropriate material, BBC news reported. Under the measure, any Thai citizen who posts disrespectful comments online can face criminal charges of insulting the monarchy.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha urged Thai people this week to stop “chasing away” those who are not wearing black, according to the Washington Post. But the country’s justice minister, Paiboon Koomchaya, later said about anyone who insults the monarch: “There is no better way to punish these people than to socially sanction them.”
Last year, the courts gave unprecedented prison sentences of 28 and 30 years to two people found guilty of insulting the monarchy on Facebook.
After the Thai government published a statement Wednesday condemning, Saran Chuichai, a renounced exiled transgender Thai activist who fled to France after the 2014 coup for disrespecting the royal family in an interview, Thai royalists began inundating her Facebook with comments calling for her to be returned to her homeland to be tried in court, The Telegraph reported.
“I think we should hire a gangster to deal with them. Offer him good pay. And after they finish their job, let them fly to Thailand and hide until the lawsuit expires,” reads one comment.