Thai airline’s April Fool’s Day joke could run afoul of local laws

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(Reuters) – The April Fool’s prank, tweeted by staff at budget airline Thai Vietjet, could lead to criminal charges after an activist lawyer filed a complaint with the police alleging that he had insulted King Maha Vajiralongkorn of Thailand.

The police will decide later whether to prosecute under Strict “Les Majesty” laws – which carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison for defaming the monarchy – against the airline staff.

The official account of Thai Vietjet tweeted on April 1 that the airline was launching a new international route between the Thai province of Nan and Munich, Germany, which had sparked online anger and threats of boycott among ultra-imperialists.

The offensive tweet was later removed and the airline apologized the next day in a statement stating that senior management was “unaware of the tweet announcing a flight route between a province of Thailand and a city in Europe, which led to many public reactions.”

The tweet did not mention King Vajiralongkorn, 69, who is believed to have spent most of his time in Germany, or his royal wife, Sininat Wongvajirafakdi, who was born in his small province.

The king conferred the title of royal wife on Sininat shortly after her 2019 coronation. He married a member of his personal bodyguard unit earlier in the year, who became Queen Suthida.

In recent years student-led protests have seen some activists openly criticize the king, among other things, for his time outside the country. At least 183 people have been charged with insulting the monarchy since the protests began in 2020.

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Vernate Laprabang, the airline’s CEO, responded to the outrage of the online princes by saying that the responsible staff has been suspended pending investigation.

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“I would like to apologize once again to the Thai people for such an incident,” Voranate said.

But lawyer and activist Sreesuwan Janya filed a police complaint of royal insults and computer crimes, saying in a Facebook post that the tweet “showed intent to offend” and that an apology was not enough.

Sreesuwan, known as a police complainant in Thailand, once told the Bangkok Post that he had counted more than 1,000 filings, including on consumer fraud, corruption and environmental issues. Reuters has not been able to determine how many complaints have been dealt with.

Thai Deputy Police Spokesperson Kisana Fathanacharoin told Reuters that police would consider the complaint after reviewing “all the facts” and “whether there was any criminal intent” regarding what happened.

Thailand’s Laz Majest laws have recently come under criticism from some activists and opposition politicians, a bold move in a country that has traditionally been semi-divine to the king and above criticism.

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