Thai police charged three social media influencers with lese majeste Thursday over controversial social media advertisements for an e-commerce firm that monarchists said mocked a member of the royal family.
The TikTok clips promoting Lazada – owned by China’s Alibaba Group – enraged ultra-royalists who called for the company to be banned in the kingdom, and led to the Thai military barring the firm’s delivery vehicles from its premises.
Criticism of the monarchy is taboo in Thailand, where King Maha Vajiralongkorn and his close family are protected by some of the world’s toughest royal insult laws, with each charge carrying a prison term of up to 15 years.
Police Colonel Siriwat Deepo from the Technology Crime Suppression Division confirmed to AFP the arrest of the three people acting in the clips: Anuwat Pratumklin, Kittikhun Thamakitirat and Thidaporn Chaokovieng.
Their lawyer Duangrat Srinaunt told AFP the trio had been freed on bail and that they denied the charges.
In the two clips, which circulated last month, Thidaporn, wearing a traditional Thai silk costume, sits in a wheelchair playing an influencer’s mother – which angry monarchists said was an insulting allusion to a member of the royal family.
The material also attracted criticism from disability campaigners who described it as distasteful and disrespectful to wheelchair users.
Lazada – one of Southeast Asia’s biggest online shopping platforms – apologised last month.
“We understand the content has traumatised the public and reduced human dignity,” the retailer said in May.
On Thursday, the company said it had commissioned only one of the clips.
Thailand’s lese majeste laws have long drawn criticism from human rights activists, who say they are overly broad and misused to suppress debate.
Use of the legislation slowed for several years, but picked up again when youth-led street protests sprung up in 2020 calling for democratic change and reforms to the monarchy.