Tag Archives: monarchy

Thailand begins a year of mourning after the death of its beloved King

First published with LA Times 14 October, 2016

Thailand awoke Friday to grief and uncertainty as it began a one-year official mourning period after the death of the country’s beloved monarch of 70 years.

The highly revered king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, died Thursday at age 88 after years of illness and was considered a rare unifying figure in the country’s recent tumultuous history.

A national holiday was declared as leading newspapers and news websites published in monochrome, movies and concerts were rescheduled and all television channels were airing the same tributes to the late king, the world’s longest-ruling current monarch.

State officials and other civil servants were told to maintain an official mourning period of one year. The government asked Thais to avoid wearing bright colors or hold any festive events for 30 days.

The king’s body was moved Friday from Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok to the Grand Palace for a royal bathing ceremony. Lining the procession route, thousands of Thai mourners clad in simple black or white clothing waited patiently beginning in the early morning to pay their respects.

Among those partaking in the bathing ceremony was Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, the only son of the late king, who was expected to take over the throne from his father.

But no date has been set for a coronation. The leader of Thailand’s ruling junta, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, told reporters that the crown prince had decided to delay his enthronement to “take time to express sadness with the people nationwide for the time being.”

The delay meant that Thailand was without a king for the first time in 70 years. The head of the Privy Council, Prem Tinsulaninda, will act as regent.

Prem and the crown prince have had an acrimonious relationship over the years, sparking further speculation about the king’s succession — talk of which remains a taboo subject due to vaguely worded laws that prohibit any discussion seen as insulting to the monarchy.

Yet in quiet conversations and online forums, the thrice-divorced Vajiralongkorn is widely seen as a playboy ill at ease with the highly public role his Massachusetts-born father played for decades.

The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders advocacy group released a statement calling on the junta “not to restrict reporting, and not to crack down on all those, including journalists and internet users, who comment on King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s death … and its consequences.”

Thai officials were still grappling with the impact of the king’s death on the country’s economy, 10% of which comes from tourism. The Thai stock market rose more than 4% in morning trading in a sign of confidence in the economy.

Though some establishments in Bangkok closed early after news of the king’s death, in the northern city of Chiang Mai, many businesses were operating as usual. Along the narrow streets, hawkers beckoned throngs of tourists while bars and shops remained open and as brightly lit as the day before.

Some Thais found more personal ways to express their grief.

“I wore black not because of Prayuth [asking it of the people] but because I wanted to show my grief myself,” said Tong, who manages a wine bar in the old square and goes by only one name.

“The king was like my father. I wanted to cry.”

Tong said that although she agreed with the call to avoid loud music during the 30-day mourning period, many neighboring bars were avoiding the more severe prohibitions expected of them in order to continue attracting tourists.

“We rely on them,” she said. “If they come and we are all quiet or closed for long, I think then it’s also not good.

“So we go to our own wats [temples] and pray in private.”

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Wife of anti-monarchist British journalist detained in Thailand

First published in the Guardian 22 July, 2016

The Thai wife of a British journalist has been detained by police after her husband, an anti-monarchist, shared unflattering pictures of the country’s crown prince on social media and wrote about the royal succession.

Detectives said the photos shared by Andrew MacGregor Marshall, a former Bangkok-based Reuters correspondent who has been banned from the country since 2011 and now lives in Edinburgh, were fake and violated the kingdom’s royal defamation law.

His wife, Noppawan Bunluesilp, was visiting relatives in Bangkok, was detained by police and had electronic items seized. She was accompanied to the city’s crime suppression division by her father and three-year-old son and questioned before being released.

Marshall, who is the author of a banned book about the monarchy, told the Guardian that while he had criticised the royal family and Thailand’s draconian defamation law, he has always ensured Noppawan was never involved.

“I have always been very careful to protect my wife and her family from any consequences of my journalism,” he said via Skype from Hong Kong, where he is on business.

Thailand’s strict lèse-majesté laws provide for sentences of up to 15 years in jail for anyone found guilty of insulting, threatening, or defaming any of the leading members of the royal family.

According to Marshall, a Facebook post about an “imminent” royal succession and his sharing of a German tabloid’s striking photos, apparently of the crown prince, were probably “the trigger” for his wife’s detention.

According to Agence France-Presse, the commander of Thailand’s Central Investigation Bureau, Thitirat Nongharnpitak, told reporters the pictures were doctored, saying “the culprit is Andrew MacGregor Marshall who has violated lèse-majesté laws for several years.”

On Friday morning, the webpage remained blocked in Thailand.

Human rights observers believe that protection for free speech in Thailand has deteriorated rapidly since the military coup in 2014.

A recent UN review said lèse-majesté had been employed excessively to silence critics and curb free speech.

Last year, the New York Times found several critical articles on Thailand removed from international editions printed in the kingdom. And this week Thai subscribers to the Economist magazine were told by email that the latest issue, which features an article on the royal succession, would not be distributed owing to “the sensitive content … and the resulting potential risk”.

Marshall said this free speech crackdown was the reason he considered his wife and son’s return to the kingdom potentially problematic, yet the police raid still shocked him. “It’s one thing to be aware of [the risks], but to suddenly discover more than 20 police are raiding your wife’s family home is horrible.”

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