Grief after Thai king’s death spills into anger
A Thai woman accused of insulting the country’s late king was forced to kneel before his portrait outside a police station on the tourist island of Samui as several hundred people bayed for an apology. The woman’s arrest and public shaming on Sunday was the latest of several such incidents since King Bhumibol Adulyadej died last week after a reign of 70 years, plunging Thailand into intense mourning.
Two police officers led 43-year-old Umaporn Sarasat to a picture of Bhumibol in front of Bophut police station on Samui, where she knelt and prayed, both on the way into the station and the way out.
The crowd, some of whom held aloft portraits of the revered monarch, jeered when she first appeared. A line of police officers linked arms to keep them from surging forward. It is likely that Sarasat, a small business owner, who is alleged to have posted disrespectful comments online, will face charges of insulting the monarchy.
“We are going to proceed with the case as best we can,” district police chief Thewes Pleumsud told the crowd. "I understand your feelings. You came here out of loyalty to his Majesty. Don't worry, I give you my word," he said.
Authorities are also urging residents to maintain calm as social media throbs with criticism of people who aren’t wearing black and white clothing to mourn the revered monarch and some arch-royalists take to reprimanding people in public. A government spokesman said some Thais can't afford mourning clothes and urged tolerance.
There have been reports of price gouging as demand for such clothing has surged since Bhumibol's death on Thursday.
Tens of thousands of Thais have descended on the Grand Palace in Bangkok, where Bhumibol’s body is being kept, and a year of mourning has been declared by the government.
Several foreign governments have warned citizens traveling in Thailand to avoid behaviour that could be interpreted as festive, disrespectful or disorderly.
On Friday, police and soldiers on the Thai resort island of Phuket dispersed a mob of several hundred people, seeking a confrontation with a man they believed insulted the king. Video showed the crowd blocking the road outside a soy milk shop and waving placards with slurs such as "buffalo," a local slang word for stupidity.
Some shouted for the man to come out. Thailand has draconian lese majeste laws that impose stiff prison sentences for actions or writings regarded as derogatory toward the monarch or his family.