Thanakorn Siripaiboon, a factory worker in Thailand, was brought before a military court in Thailand on Monday and charged with “insulting” the royal dog. The man faces up to 37 years in jail for posting “sarcastic” and “disparaging” comments about the king’s favorite dog to his Facebook page. He is also facing separate charges of insulting the king and sedition against the country’s military government.
Thanakorn was reportedly arrested in his home in Bangkok last week and was held incommunicado until he was arraigned on Monday. He was charged with insulting the king and his dog and with sedition for sharing on Facebook allegations of corruption against the military rulers.
Thanakorn’s lawyer, Anon Numpa, told the New York Times that specific information about the alleged insult to Tongdaeng, the king’s favorite dog, has not been made known by the Thai military authorities.
Tongdaeng — meaning “Copper” — is a street mongrel rescued by Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej years ago. King Adulyadej published a best-selling illustrated book about his dog in 2002, extolling her loyalty and obedience and recommending her as an example to his subjects. The book described the Tongdaeng as a “respectful” dog with good manners who always humbly observed protocol and “always sits lower than the king.”
The book was followed this year by an animated film titled Khun Tongdaeng: The Inspiration, also based on the king’s dog. The term “Khun” in Thai denotes respect and is roughly equivalent to “ma’am,” according to the New York Times.
The book and film have made the dog a household name in Thailand.
Thanakorn is being charged under the country’s increasingly strict lèse-majesté (injured majesty) law, which makes it a crime for citizens to “insult” the monarchy or make disparaging or derogatory statements against the king and members of the royal family. The law has been applied more strictly as part of efforts by the military junta, which seized power in a coup in May last year, to crack down on critics and political opponents, including politicians, journalists, and student activists.
The lèse-majesté law, according to Thanakorn’s lawyer, Numpa, was originally understood to apply only in cases where a person or group make defamatory, insulting, or disparaging comments about the king, his queen, and other senior members of the royal family. Numpa said he was shocked to learn that it was being applied to an alleged insult or “sarcastic” comment about the king’s dog.
“I never imagined they would use the law for the royal dog. This is nonsense,” Numpa said.
The expansion of the law for broader application was signaled last year when a well-known scholar in Thailand was charged with insulting a king who died more than 400 years ago. Earlier in the year, a man was jailed 30 years for insulting the king on Facebook. The U.S. ambassador to Thailand, Glyn Davies, is also being investigated under the lèse-majesté law after he gave a speech in which he criticized the long prison sentences being handed down by Thai military courts on charges related to the law.
However, police were careful to make clear the fact that Davis was protected by diplomatic immunity.
The growing list of people being charged under the law has stifled discussion in the local news media and on social media. The New York Times reports that the local printer of its international edition in Thailand preferred to leave blank the space where the story about the dog should have appeared. Similarly, observers have remarked about the eerie silence in Thailand’s otherwise vibrant social media about the subject of the alleged insult to the king’s dog. The silence is being attributed to fears that social media comments construed as disrespectful of the king or his dog could lead to new charges.
— Thomas Fuller (@thomasfullerNYT) December 14, 2015
While there are questions whether the palace is behind the zealous enforcement of the lèse-majesté law, many analysts believe that the push is not from the ailing 88-year-old king undergoing treatment at a hospital in Bangkok, but from the military authorities exploiting the law to suppress dissent. King Bhumibol, the world’s longest-serving monarch, is known to have encouraged criticism in the past, and during a birthday speech in 2005, he said he welcomed criticism because as a human being he is fallible.
The Thai military government has come under criticism from international human right groups and UN human rights bodies. A spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights recently expressed concern about the increase in charges, convictions, and “shockingly disproportionate prison terms” under the lèse-majesté law.
[Photo By Sakchai Lalit/AP]