Thailand threatened by self-appointed guardians of late King Bhumibol: The Nation

Thai artists and alumni of Silpakorn University paint a portrait of Thailand's late King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the university in Bangkok.
Thai artists and alumni of Silpakorn University paint a portrait of Thailand's late King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the university in Bangkok.PHOTO: REUTERS

In its editorial on Oct 24, the paper says the behaviour of vigilantes attacking people they accuse of lese majeste should not be tolerated.

Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya caused a flutter when he said recently that the best way to protect the monarchy was via social sanction.

It was a disturbing message because his remark was brief and not explained until a day later. So, initially, it appeared that he was encouraging vigilantism.

Naturally, such a suggestion attracted negative attention and even undermined the mourning over the passing of His Majesty the King.

Paiboon was responding to a question from reporters earlier this week about an incident of vigilantism against a soymilk seller in Phuket accused by a mob of lese majeste. The suspect was forced by the mob to kneel before the King's portrait and admit his guilt.

Paiboon said there was nothing better than social sanction and encouraged Thais in foreign lands to do the same with alleged wrongdoers living abroad.

He appeared to be contradicting himself when he has acknowledged that Thai laws have no jurisdiction in foreign lands.

Sensing the damaging nature of the minister's statement, junta spokesman Piyapong Klinphan urged the public not to assault people who commit lese majeste, but follow proper legal processes instead.

The spokesman also said the practice of forcing those accused of committing lese majeste to kneel before the King's portrait in public is no longer permitted.

The scene in Phuket was repeated in several other provinces this past week where groups assaulted individuals they accused of insulting or disrespecting the late King.

Many of the incidents were captured on mobile phones and posted on social media, resulting in further condemnation of the suspects. But what some people don't realise is that the world is watching and their actions have put Thai society in an unwanted spotlight. Many people - Thais and non-Thais - are questioning the behaviour of these people who took such matters into their own hands.

Sadly, the damage control by the junta could not have come sooner. The government should have foreseen such possibilities and prepared themselves and lower level officials on how to best handle it. A minister calling for social sanction, only for that to be dismissed by a spokesman reflects poorly on the administration.

Consistency, sense and sensibility are important elements in this trying time when the nation is mourning the passing of the late King.

Given the difficulties many people have in how to deal with the grief, there is no need for self-appointed do-gooders to police the entire society, to see who and how others are dealing with this mourning period.

These self-designated do-gooders think there is only one proper way to dress and to conduct oneself during this time. In their view, anybody who strays from their strict interpretation of how to behave will be persecuted.

There have been incidents when pictures of innocent people have been posted on social media because they were not wearing the "right colour". As expected, arrogant remarks follow. Needless to say, regardless of the offence, there is no place for mob justice in modern society.

Naturally, the person who posted the picture never bothered to look a little deeper before jumping to his hateful conclusion. The same could be said about those who were quick to condemn whatever they saw on social media.

Before they post something or quickly comment about a person without knowing the background, perhaps they should look at themselves in the mirror and question their own behaviour. If they do, they might see an insecure little person, desperately craving to feel superior to fellow citizens.

As a people, we must ask ourselves what kind of society we want to be when we arrogantly demand proof of loyalty from our fellow citizens. It could lead to an entirely different discourse that the country is not ready to take on.

* The Nation is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 21 newspapers.