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Thai Royals Don’t “Like” Facebook

If you find yourself in Thailand, think twice before "liking" any funny memes about the Thai royal family, unless you want to scrap for cigarette butts at Bangkok Remand Prison.

Illustration By Sam Taylor

If you happen to find yourself enjoying a Wi-Fi connection on one of Thailand’s charming beaches, think twice before “liking” any funny memes about the Thai royal family, unless you want to spend your vacation scrapping for cigarette butts in the Bangkok Remand Prison. Under the long-standing tradition of lèse-majesté (a law that makes it illegal to insult the dignity of the monarchy), the Thai government can send you to jail for sharing anything offensive to the royal family. This law makes no exception for foreigners or even 61-year-olds suffering from mouth cancer like Amphon Tangnoppakul, who was recently sentenced to 20 years in prison for sending an SMS deemed offensive to the monarchy. “Being in an overcrowded jail has worsened his ailment and he always cries when people visit him,” says his lawyer, Arnon Nampa, who has worked on many similar cases in the past. “Our legal team is working hard to get him released on bail, but the appeal is likely to take years because the Thai judiciary system has determined his charges to be severe, and we have no witnesses as no one wants to get involved in a lèse-majesté case.” Tangnoppakul’s trial isn’t an isolated incident either—last month an American citizen named Joe Gordon was tossed into a Thai prison for posting links to a bio of King Bhumibol Adulyadej several years ago while Gordon was in Colorado. What’s the reason for these numerous lèse majesté incidents? Are the royals really that touchy? Nampa blames the tense political situation in the country for the arrests: “Most Thais are loyal to the royal family. However, as we’re undergoing a period of political transition, some ultra-royalists use the flaws of our legal system as a political tool against their opposition. What boggles me is that Mr. Tangnoppakul is far from being [antigovernment activist] Surachai Sae Dan; he’s an unemployed grandfather of five who can barely spell.”