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Thai editor faces royal insult prosecution

April 1, 2018

Highlighting air pollution in Chiang Mai by depicting the Thai city's three historic kings wearing face masks has left an editor facing a royal-insult probe. The region's governor claims his city has been "besmirched."

A tuk-tuk taxi driver in Chiang Mai, in Thailand
A tuk-tuk taxi driver wearing a face mask in Chiang MaiImage: picture-alliance/dpa/ZB/A. Lander

Governor Pawin Chamniprasart said Sunday police were gathering evidence to prosecute the editor under the Computer Crime Act, one of Thailand's laws against insulting royalty. It carries up to five years in prison.

"Using the picture with the three kings wearing masks is disrespectful," Pawin insisted.

Editor Pim Kemasingki, a Thai-British national, had shared the image painted by a local high school student on Facebook to promote a "Right to Breathe" anti-air pollution rally called by the magazine. 

Highlighting smog

"It was pertinent and powerful," said Pim, who edits the Chiang Mai Citylife magazine, referring to the picture.

Thailand: Three Kings Monument in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai's Three Kings MonumentImage: picture-alliance/dpa/CPA Media

Chiang Mai, a northern hub that draws foreign travelers keen to explore Thailand's mountainous north, often chokes on haze from seasonal cropland burn-offs. The protest was canceled under pressure from the governor.

Prosecutions under Thailand's lese majeste [royal insult] laws have burgeoned since a 2014 coup that culminated in the installation of an ultraroyalist junta.

What hurts more?

The teenage artist, in his own social media post, said it was "a shame" that people felt more hurt by a picture than the "polluted air that they are breathing in."

Governor Pawin said: "The statues of three kings are very sacred and respected by Chiang Mai residents; they were our ancestors."

A lawyer for editor Pim, Achariya Ruangrattanapong, said he was confident that the magazine's sharing of the student's picture was not a violation of Thailand's cybercrime law.

Pawin added that he was not pressing Thailand's more severe lese majeste charge that can result in up to 15 years in jail for insulting the monarchy.

ipj/rc (Reuters, AFP)