Mobs demanding police punish people for “not mourning enough”
The Associated Press
BANGKOK — A Thai woman accused of insulting the country’s late king was forced to kneel before his portrait outside a police station on the tourist island of Samui as several hundred people bayed for an apology.
The woman’s arrest and public shaming on Sunday 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 Bhumibol in front of Bophut police station on Samui, 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 urged tolerance.
There have been reports of price gouging as demand for such clothing has surged since Bhumibol’s death on Thursday.
Tens of thousands of Thais have descended on the Grand Palace in Bangkok where Bhumibol’s body is being kept, and a year of mourning has been declared by the government.
Several foreign governments have warned citizens traveling in Thailand to avoid behavior that could be interpreted as festive, disrespectful or disorderly.
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.
Video showed the crowd blocking the road outside a soy milk shop and waving placards with slurs such as “buffalo,” a local slang word for stupidity. Some shouted for the man to come out.
Thailand has draconian lese majesty lese majeste laws that impose 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 Bhumibol’s death.
Mobs pressure police to make lese majeste arrests
Police on Sunday charged a woman with royal defamation after a Koh Samui mob demanded action over a Facebook post allegedly defaming the heir and regent.
It was the second mob in two days in the South demanding summary justice for alleged lese majeste offences. An angry mob descended on a soy milk factory in Phuket last Friday to demand the arrest of the son of the owner. Military and civilian police eventually dispersed the mob without injuries or arrests.
The woman, who has not been named by police, was accused of posting a derogatory statement on Facebook last Friday, the day after the death of King Bhumibol was announced.
Bophut district police chief Thewes Pleumsud gave no details, but confirmed the woman’s arrest on charges that she had violated Section 112 of the Criminal Code, concerning lese majeste.
“She did not post against the late King”, said Pol Maj Thewes. “It involved the heir and the regent” pro tempore, Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, he said.
The arrest and charges were a direct result of mob action. An angry mob descended on Bophut police station on Sunday demanding the woman be charged.
The crowd then hurled insults at the woman, according to videos widely shared on Facebook.
The videos showed the unidentified women publicly prostrating herself in apology before a portrait of the late king.
It was the second mob action reported since the death of King Bhumibol.
Last Friday, police had to call military reinforcements to disperse a large mob seeking instant justice for an alleged lese majeste case in Yaowarat Road of Phuket town’s Muang district.
More than 1,000 people gathered after claims that the son of an owner of soy milk factory had made one or more Facebook posts insulting the late monarch.
Police and military officers, led by Muang district police chief Pol Col Kamon Osiri, told the mob they had interviewed the accused man and released him without charges.
Protesters raised doubt about police handling of the case, according to witnesses.
Phuket police chief Pol Maj Gen Thiraphon explained police had no power to detain the son, whose name was not revealed, because no wrongdoing had been seen by officers and the words posted online were not considered “direct defamation”.
He said if officers gathered sufficient evidence, they would ask a court for an arrest warrant.
However, his clarification failed to satisfy the protesters and at 12.30am he asked them to open the way to traffic. Military police intervened to help to disperse the crowd.
Thailand’s Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn delays his coronation for a year
Thailand’s Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn wants his coronation held off for at least a year, government officials say.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej died on Thursday and the crown prince wants more time to mourn his father.
Former Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda is standing in as regent.
Current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha sought to reassure Thais about the succession in a TV address on Saturday, saying they should not worry.
This issue was discussed when Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn summoned the regent and Gen Prayuth for an audience, according to Gen Prayuth.
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The 64-year-old crown prince “asked the people not to be confused or worry about the country’s administration or even about the succession”, Gen Prayuth said in his TV statement.
“He said at this time everyone is sad, he is still sad, so every side should wait until we pass this sad time.”
Questions about the crown prince’s capabilities have been raised in the past, although the strict lese-majeste laws prevent any open discussion of these.
Gen Prayuth took power in a military coup in 2014 which overthrew the civilian government. He has promised elections next year.
The monarchy is seen as a unifying force in Thailand at times of political upheaval and King Bhumibol, who died aged 88, was a figure revered by many Thais.
The military government has made clear that Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn will be the new king, reports the BBC’s Jonathan Head in Bangkok, but it just isn’t clear when this will happen.
The military has traditionally been intensely loyal to the monarchy.
Thailand is beginning a year of official mourning, and entertainment such as TV shows and sports events have been cancelled or toned down.
Many Thais are wearing black and mourners have continued to converge on the Grand Palace in central Bangkok to pay their respects to the late king by signing a book of condolences.
It is unclear when his cremation will take place but it is not expected until the official one-year mourning period is over.
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