A famous pop singer arrested for allegedly burning a portrait of the King

Chaiamorn ‘Ammy’ Kaewwiboonpan, lead singer of the pop band The Bottom Blues, is among 3 people against whom the police have requested an arrest warrant for lèse majesté, arson and computer crimes over the burning of a King Rama X big portrait in front of Klong Prem Central prison on the night of 27 February.

The portrait in front of the prison was set  alight. The fire was later extinguished.

As of 17.00 of 3 March, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights tweeted that the court has rejected the bail request. Matichon reported that the police has put him under custody while treating his body injuries at the Police Hospital.

The Bangkok Post reported that the police arrested Chaiamorn at 00.40 on Wednesday morning. However, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported that he was arrested at Ratchathani Hospital in Ayutthaya while being treated for an illness. He was transferred to the Police Hospital on Wednesday morning.

On Wednesday afternoon, a post appeared on The Bottom Blues band Facebook timeline, stating that Chaiamorn alone was responsible for the burning. The reason for his action was his frustration at not being able to help those who are in detention, referring to Parit Chiwarak and 3 others who have been in detention pending trial for over 20 days.

"The burning of the portrait this time, I accept that it is a foolish idea that put myself in danger.

"But the meanings that are hidden in this burning are many. It is symbolically simple which I hope everyone will understand and see," stated the post possibly posted by Chaiamorn.

According to Khaosod, the Criminal Court issued the arrest warrant on 2 March against Chaiamorn. It is not confirmed whether the warrants against the other 2 have been issued yet.

Pol Maj Gen Piya Tawichai, Deputy Metropolitan Police Commissioner, earlier stated that the police requested the warrant based on CCTV footage and other material evidence. He confirmed that the police have clear video footage of before and after the incident as well as the escape route.

Prachachuen Police Station, which oversees the area, reportedly collected the video evidence and found that there were 3 perpetrators, one being a famous male singer and activist. The singer was the one who set fire to the portrait of the King while the other 2 remained in a car. The police were ready to make an arrest as soon as the warrant was issued.

Chaiamorn is one of the public figures who have spearheaded the pro-democracy movement since its uprising in 2020. He has been seen at many protest sites, performing music or even standing as a guard.

Despite the surge in verbal and symbolic expressions about the monarchy, the expression via burning is not new. In 2017, 6 youngsters in Chonnabot and Phon districts, Khon Kaen Province, were arrested after successfully setting fire to 2 arches honouring King Rama X. They were charged with lèse majesté, criminal association and arson.

In 2019, the Appeal Court dropped the lèse majesté charge due to the inability to verify their intentions. However, they were still found guilty of the other charges.

In Thailand, portraits and arches are widely used by local authorities to honour members of the monarchy. According to a brief Prachatai survey in 2020, the cost of an arch ranges from ten thousand to millions of baht depending on the size and design.

According to the Facebook page of Watchdog.ACT, in 2020 provincial administrative organizations (PAO) had a 381,736,295 baht budget for building royal arches countrywide. The page also claims that Lampang PAO corruptly profited by 5,849,000 baht from overbudgeting an arch construction project.

Setting fire to images of royalty is not new around the world. In September 2007, Enric Stern and Jaume Roura, supporters of Catalan independence, set fire to a life-size photograph of King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia.

The two were sentenced to 15 months in prison for insulting the monarchy, later reduced to a 2,700 euro fine.

However, in March 2019, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the judges were not convinced that the burning could reasonably be construed as incitement to hatred or violence. The court ordered Spain to reimburse the fines and pay for their legal costs.

The ruling also stated that the act had not been a personal attack on the King of Spain  intended to insult and vilify his person, but a denunciation of what the king represented as the head and symbol of the state, according to the the New York Times.

Source: 
prachatai.com/journal/2021/03/91933

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