Thai King death: Woman forced to kneel before portrait of late monarch after 'posting disrespectful comments online'

She will probably face charges of insulting the monarchy

Stephen Wright
Monday 17 October 2016 10:49
Woman forced to kneel before portrait of Thai king after 'posting disrespectful comments online'

A Thai woman accused of insulting the country's late king was forced to kneel before his portrait at a police station on the tourist island of Samui as several hundred people bayed for an apology.

The woman's arrest and public shaming was the latest of several such incidents since King Bhumibol Adulyadej died last week after a reign of 70 years, plunging Thailand into intense mourning.

Two police officers led 43-year-old Umaporn Sarasat to a picture of the late King Bhumibol in front of Bophut police station, where she knelt and prayed, both on the way into the station and the way out.

The crowd, some of whom held aloft portraits of the revered monarch, jeered when she first appeared. A line of police officers linked arms to keep them from surging forward.

It is likely that Sarasat, a small business owner who is alleged to have posted disrespectful comments online, will face charges of insulting the monarchy.

"We are going to proceed with the case as best we can," district police chief Thewes Pleumsud told the crowd. "I understand your feelings. You came here out of loyalty to his majesty. Don't worry, I give you my word."

Authorities are also urging calm as social media throbs with criticism of people who aren't wearing black and white clothing to mourn the revered monarch and some arch-royalists take to reprimanding people in public.

A government spokesman said some Thais can't afford mourning clothes and stressed the need for tolerance.

High-profile figures such as Bhumibol's eldest child, Princess Ubolratana, and a daughter of Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister who lives in exile after being ousted in a 2006 coup, used social media to urge Thais not to rush to judgment.

There have been reports of price gouging as demand for such clothing has surged since King Bhumibol's death on Thursday.

Seemingly in response to that, pop-up clothes dyeing centres are a new phenomenon in the Thai capital as black apparel becomes too expensive for many.

At one such free station involving vats of black dye boil non-stop, volunteers rushed to write down names and contact information as they brought in coloured clothes.

“Some people don't have black clothes or don't have enough to wear,” said Kanokporn Tantranont, a Krung Thai Tractor employee helping out at the centre set up by the tractor importing company. “If you go out to buy more clothes, the prices are so high,” he said.

His employer says the dyeing station will stay open until the end of the month and people can also donate old clothes to be dyed black.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said people shouldn't be criticized for not wearing black or white because feelings of grief come from the heart, not what clothes are worn.

Clothing is not the only thing in demand. Shops supplying portraits of King Bhumibol and royal memorabilia are scrambling to meet demand as mourners flock to buy pictures of the revered monarch .

In Dinso road, a stone's throw from the Grand Palace, where King Bhumibol's remains will be kept for until a royal cremation is held, shops selling gold-framed portraits of the king were packed and business was brisk.

“Business has increased about 70 to 80 percent,” said Charlie Wangthamrongwit, 62, who owns a shop in Dinso road, known by some as 'portrait street'.

“We just can't meet demand,” he told Reuters, adding that standing portraits of King Bhumibol were proving the most popular.

Tens of thousands of Thais have descended on the Grand Palace to pay their respects to the late King Bhumibol, and a year of mourning has been declared by the government.

Several foreign governments have warned citizens travelling in Thailand to avoid behavior that could be interpreted as festive, disrespectful or disorderly.

Public pray for dying king in Thailand

On Friday, police and soldiers on the Thai resort island of Phuket dispersed a mob of several hundred people seeking a confrontation with a man they believed insulted the king.

A video showed the crowd blocking the road outside a soy milk shop and waving placards with slurs such as "buffalo," a slang word for stupidity. Some shouted for the man to come out.

Thailand has a draconian lese majeste law that imposes stiff prison sentences for actions or writings regarded as derogatory toward the monarch or his family.

The operator of Thailand's main cable TV network has blocked foreign news broadcasts deemed insensitive to the monarchy since King Bhumibol's death.

The death of the world's longest-reigning monarch had raised questions over whether the miltary government would delay elections set for next year - which are supposed to pave the way for a return to civilian rule. However, the Bangkok Post newspaper reported the poll would proceed as planned.

“The government has reaffirmed its commitment to following the roadmap for general elections scheduled for late next year,” the newspaper said.

Associated Press

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