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Thailand

Thai YouTuber could face ‘royal insult’ charge after criticising Miss Universe contestant’s gown designed by Princess Nariratana

  • Any Thai citizen is permitted to file defamation charges on behalf of another person, and convictions can carry prison sentences of up to two years
  • The lèse-majesté law, which has been in place since 1908, has been increasingly enforced since the Thai military took power in 2014 in a coup
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 December, 2018, 2:03am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 December, 2018, 9:39pm

A Thai social media influencer who criticised a gown worn by her country’s Miss Universe contestant could end up in court after another online personality filed a complaint with police charging that her thumbs-down fashion comment defamed the royal family.

Kitjanut Chaiyosburana, a businessman and politician, said on Wednesday that he filed his complaint after seeing a Facebook post by Wanchaleom Jamneanphol, who disparaged a blue dress designed by Princess Srivannavari Nariratana, a daughter of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Miss Universe Thailand, Sophida Kancharin, wore the gown during a December 5 promotional event that was part of the pageant, won in Bangkok on Monday by the Philippines’ Catriona Gray.

Police Colonel Siriwat Deepor, spokesman for the Technology Crime Suppression Bureau, said the defamation complaint had been received and would be investigated.

Wanchaleom has deleted the critical post and apologised on Monday to Princess Srivannavari in another Facebook post.

“Your Royal Highness Sirivannavari Nariratana, I, Wanchaleom Jamneanphol, did not have any intention to insult or disrespect the high institution,” Wanchaleom wrote, employing language used exclusively to address Thai royalty. “I feel deeply guilty and sorry for what had happened.”

Police could forward the complaint to prosecutors as a violation of the Computer Crime Act, which carries a punishment of five years in prison and fines for spreading false information and damaging national security. Similar cases have also been treated as lèse-majesté, or insulting the monarchy, punishable by three to 15 years’ imprisonment.

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The law, which has been in place since 1908, has been increasingly enforced ever since the Thai military took power in 2014 in a coup, with many people punished with harsh jail sentences. Critics say the law is used to suppress freedom of speech, and campaigners and the United Nations have repeatedly called for it to be amended. The computer crimes laws also strictly control what Thai people can post online and carry equally severe sentences.

“I acted as a Thai to protect the country’s reputation and to set an example,” complainant Kitjanut said. “So many times people make careless comments and it ends with just an apology.”

Kitjanut and Wanchaleom are both popular figures in Thailand’s online LGBT community. Wanchaleom is a transgender woman with over 500,000 followers on Facebook and Kitjanut is a transgender man with more than 400,000 Facebook followers.

Kitjanut said that he did not want to criticise a fellow member of the LGBT community because people outside already have a negative view of them, but that he acted because he wants justice.

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“There are people saying why is a tomboy criticising a trans,” he said. “But for me, it’s not about protecting your own group of people, but about right and wrong. She [Wanchaleom] is a big influencer and she has a large following. So she should set a good example for others.”

Nariratana, is the only daughter of King Vajiralongkorn and former consort Sujarinee Vivacharawongse. She is the founder and creative director of her own high-end fashion line, Sirivannavari. She is often seen on the pages of Tatler and Vogue and is widely described as Thailand’s “most fashionable royal”.

Additional reporting by The Guardian