Death of Thai king's dog follows arrest over royal insult

BANGKOK • The favourite dog of Thailand's ailing monarch has died, days after a man was arrested under the kingdom's strict royal defamation laws for allegedly making a satirical online remark about the beloved canine.

The dog, called Tongdaeng (Copper), became both a household name and a publishing sensation in Thailand after King Bhumibol Adulyadej adopted it as a stray puppy and penned a heartfelt book about its attributes in 2002.

It was praised for its loyalty and obedience, with the book widely interpreted at the time as a parable about how Thais should live and remember their place within the kingdom's rigid society.

Its death was announced in a statement from the veterinary faculty of Kasetsart University late on Monday. "While Khun Tongdaeng was sleeping and relaxing, she died peacefully on Dec 26, 2015, at 1.10pm at Klai Kangwon Palace," the statement read. It said the dog had been ill for the last few years and was just over 17 years old when it died.

"Khun" is an honorific in Thailand, roughly translating to "ma'am", and was frequently used by officials and local media when referring to Tongdaeng.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej with his dog Tongdaeng at a hospital in Bangkok in a 2010 photo. Earlier this month, Thai man Thanakorn Siripaiboon, 27, was arrested for allegedly making a "satirical" Facebook post about the King and his dog, according to hi
King Bhumibol Adulyadej with his dog Tongdaeng at a hospital in Bangkok in a 2010 photo. Earlier this month, Thai man Thanakorn Siripaiboon, 27, was arrested for allegedly making a "satirical" Facebook post about the King and his dog, according to his lawyers. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Its death was splashed across Thai newspapers yesterday, with local media reporting that the King had been informed.

The dog regularly featured in palace photos, while the book about it outsold bestsellers such as Harry Potter in Thailand. A privately funded animated film based on Tongdaeng and its attributes is currently showing at Thai cinemas.

In his book, King Bhumibol described Tongdaeng as a "respectful dog, with proper manners" which was "humble and knows protocol". "She would always sit lower than the king," the book added.

King Bhumibol, 88, has spent much of the last two years in hospital and is rarely seen in public. But the world's longest-serving monarch remains widely revered in Thailand, where his economic and social teachings are extensively promoted.

The monarchy is also shielded from any debate and criticism by one of the world's harshest royal defamation laws. Anyone convicted of insulting the king, queen, heir or regent, can face up to 15 years in jail on each count.

Analysts say uncertainty as the King Bhumibol's reign enters its twilight years is a major factor in the political chaos that has beset Thailand for the much of the last decade, as competing elites jostle for influence. Lese majeste prosecutions have soared since the army, which styles itself as the champion of the monarchy, grabbed power in a coup last year. The boundaries for what counts as a royal insult have also expanded dramatically.

Earlier this month, Thanakorn Siripaiboon, 27, was arrested for allegedly making a "satirical" Facebook post about the King and his dog, according to his lawyers.

As is often the case in lese majeste cases, the authorities did not give details on what the post said. Thanakorn also faces lese majeste, sedition and computer crimes charges for clicking "like" on a doctored photo of the King and sharing it, plus an infographic on a growing corruption scandal engulfing the military.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 30, 2015, with the headline 'Death of Thai king's dog follows arrest over royal insult'. Print Edition | Subscribe