BY GRIFFIN BRAMMER
Thai citizens have been protesting the country’s monarchy since August, claiming that strict laws barring speech against the royal family are being politically weaponized.
Protests against the Thai royal family have been largely populated by students in recent weeks, though larger protests of Thailand’s 2014 military coup d’etat have recently begun to intertwine with the protests against royalty.
Speaking out against Thai King Vajiralongkorn can be punished by 15 years in prison, and charges for this offense can be brought up by a government official, law enforcement office or any Thai citizen.
“(Thailand) has long had a tradition of putting the monarchy above everything else. The monarchy is revered, you have to love it unconditionally,” Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an exiled Thai dissident, said.
King Bajirlongkorn has come under controversy in recent years for his increasingly erratic personal and romantic behavior. The leader has been married four times in the past 20 years, during which he frequently stripped his wives of their ranks and forced them to flee to other countries for their safety.
Moreover, King Vajiralongkorn made his pet dog Air Chief Marshal in the Thai Air Force in 2009, extending the title of royalty to the pup. Recently, one man was briefly jailed for liking a Facebook post that joked about the king’s now-cremated dog, Foo Foo.
The Thai king is currently married to Queen Suthida, but has been criticized for relations with his new royal consort.
The consort, who is officially a member of the Thai royalty and therefore cannot be spoken ill of, is a position which has not existed in the country since the early 1920s.
Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi, the king’s former bodyguard and current consort, was exiled in 2019 over charges of attempting to gain the same status as the queen and “misbehaviour and disloyalty against the monarch.” She recently returned to Thailand, however, and King Vajiralongkorn welcomed her back into his royal palace.
Many protestors find these actions hypocritical, another factor which has led to the surge in anti-royal protests. The consort’s crime, which is punishable by lifelong exile, retained a shorter sentence than those who privately criticize the monarchy.
No member of the royal family has yet commented on the controversies, but tensions are rising as more protestors are arrested each week.