Air Travel

Thai airline’s April Fool’s Day tweet prompts royal insult complaint to police

Thai airline's April Fool's Day tweet prompts royal insult complaint to police

A photo of Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn is defaced with a number 112 in reference to the lèse-majesté law imposed on the criminal court by protesters demanding the release of arrested leaders in Bangkok, Thailand, March 9, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer /File Photo

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BANGKOK, April 4 (Reuters) – An April Fool’s Day tweet by staff at low-cost airline Thai Vietjet could lead to criminal charges after a campaigning lawyer filed a complaint with police alleging he had insulted the King of Thailand Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Police will later decide whether to pursue a criminal case under strict ‘lèse-majesté’ laws – which make defamation of the monarchy punishable by up to 15 years in prison – against the airline personnel, an offshoot of Vietjet Aviation JSC in Vietnam. (VJC.HM).

The official Thai Vietjet account tweeted on April 1 that the airline was launching a new international route between Thailand’s Nan province and Munich in Germany, sparking online anger and boycott threats among ultra-royalists.

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The offending tweet was later deleted and the airline apologized the next day in a statement saying senior management was unaware of the tweet which advertised a “flight route between a province in Thailand and a city in Thailand”. Europe, which elicited many reactions from the public”.

The tweet did not mention King Vajiralongkorn, 69, who has a home in Germany where he spends time with Nan province-born Royal Noble Consort Sineenat Wongvajiraphakdi.

The king granted Sineenat the title of royal consort shortly after her coronation in 2019. Earlier in the year, he married a member of his personal bodyguard unit, who became Queen Suthida.

Student-led protests in recent years have seen some activists openly criticize the king for time spent outside the country, among other things. At least 183 people have been charged with insulting the monarchy since the protests began in 2020.

Airline CEO Woranate Laprabang responded to royalist outrage online by saying responsible staff had been suspended pending an investigation.

“I would once again like to apologize to the people of Thailand for such an incident,” Woranate said.

But lawyer and activist Srisuwan Janya filed a complaint with the police on Monday for royal insult and computer crimes, saying in a Facebook post that the tweet “shows intent to offend” and that an apology was not enough.

Srisuwan is well known in Thailand as a prolific filer of police complaints, once telling the Bangkok Post that he had over 1,000 filings, including for consumer fraud, corruption and environmental issues. Reuters could not determine how many of its complaints resulted in lawsuits.

Police will investigate the complaint by looking at “all the facts” about what happened and “whether there was criminal intent”, Kissana Phathanacharoen, deputy spokeswoman for Thai police, told Reuters.

Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws have recently come under fire from some opposition activists and politicians – a bold move in a country that traditionally views the king as semi-divine and above criticism .

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Writing by Panu Wongcha-um: editing by Kay Johnson and Neil Fullick

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