by Ann Norman
The days of Thailand getting a pass from the international community with regard to its brutal lese majesty law are over. Yes, Americans were generally respectful of the late King Bhumibol – as much as Americans are respectful of any king (our country was of course formed by our rebelling against a king). When the topic turns to Thailand, a typical comment I get from Americans is: “The King seems to be the only one who can unite the country.” With Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, it was a much different story. It has happened to me TWICE in Pittsburgh that a new acquaintance upon hearing I am interested in Thailand has tried to alert me: “I don’t know if you know this, but the King is about to die, and the Crown Prince is just HORRIBLE!”
Vijrialongkorn has ruined his reputation over the years, and precisely because he is about to become an actual head of state, a position with actual political consequences, his scandals have become “fair game” for both journalists and late night talk show hosts. It is not only that this sixty-something-year-old appeared at the Munich airport dressed in sagging jeans and what it looked like was his girlfriends’s halter top in order to show off his fake tattoos. Or that he famously threw a naked birthday party by a pool, and had an extravagant 4-day funeral for his poodle Foo Foo. That would just make him childish. The real problem for his reputation is that he seems to be truly evil. He divorced each of his three wives after openly cheating on them. The third wife upon their recent divorce, was exiled to the countryside, and her whole family, including elderly parents, were thrown in jail—for insulting the royalty! He has engaged in purges of his associates and is linked to some mysterious deaths.
There is no way to put a positive spin on this mess, and international reporters are no longer being evasive: Check out these recent headlines:
“Thailand’s heir apparent Maha Vajiralongkorn raises fears – and eyebrows” (The Guardian, October 13)
“Thailand Looks to Likely Future King with Apprehension,” (New York Times October 14)
And best of all: “Thailand’s new King is a kooky crop top-wearing playboy,” (New York Post October 13)
A day after the King’s death, the infamous fake tattoo pictures were the top-trending topic on Reddit. It was so refreshing to see people joking freely.
“They’re going all out with this new Hangover sequel!”
“Why does he wear a training bra? Is he transitioning?”
The tamest comment I could find in the thread is “Thailand seems odd.”
In between the jokes, you will find users warning each other that the story of Thailand’s new king is not really as funny as it at first seems. That in Thailand one can get 3 to 15 years for making such jokes. And that Vajiralongkorn is rumored to have done many terrible things.
The hilarious pictures cannot be un-seen and the shocking details of Vajiralongkorn’s life cannot be un-heard. The American public is lazy about learning geography or following the news half a world away. But they know about Thailand from their vacations and from the popularity of Thai food. However short their attention span, Americans will remember hearing scandalous stories about King Vajiralongkorn of Thailand, make a mental note that he is both evil and dangerous, and so deserving of jokes.
Thai authorities are now frantically attempting damage control and there is no way to control the damage. Censors in Thailand seem to think they can shame and threaten those outside of Thailand to keep their thoughts to themselves. They are laughably unaware that Americans feel no shame in speaking their minds—quite the opposite. When Thais warn Americans not to insult the King because Thais love their King so much they would die for him, an American thinks, “Yes, but I would die for free speech.” There is a saying that is so common here, I saw it on Facebook just yesterday: “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend with my life your right to say it.” This principle is so foundational to American democracy that it is one of the few things a Democrat and a Republican can still agree upon.
Recently the Thai authorities asked Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Line for help catching their lese majesty suspects. And called on foreign governments to prosecute 7 lese majesty suspects TO THE FULL EXTENT OF THE LAW!!! Guess what? Out here in the free world, we don’t bow to Muslim extremists, and we don’t bow to the Orwellian censors at Thailand’s Ministry of Truth. As ugly as it is to be criticizing the next King of Thailand just days after the death of his father, it has to be done. Too much is at stake. In the past 10 days since the King’s death, royalist vigilantes have gathered in mobs to threaten and attack other Thais not sufficiently upset about the king’s death; two more people have been jailed for lese majesty; and two others have had to flee the country to escape lese majesty accusations. THIS is the time to step out and break the taboo against insulting royalty, so that no more people go to jail for absolutely nothing, the many innocent people now rotting in jail are set free, ultra-royalists no longer terrorize society, exiles can return home, and the Thai people can openly discuss the options for their future, including the possibility of democracy with NO KING as head of state.
The lese majesty law is finally vulnerable because, as noted in The Economist: “[U]nder the crown prince the colossal prison sentences presently being handed to those convicted of lèse-majesté—a law which in practice is used to chill discussion of all sorts of taboo topics—will only look more abhorrent and absurd.”*
So, if you live outside of Thailand, please help us end lese majesty by committing lese majesty. Join noble comedians like John Oliver who are banned from Thailand until we win this fight for free speech.
*“After Bhumibol: The death of the Thai king throws the country into turmoil,” October 13, 2016,