Thai Pop Star-Activist Arrested on Suspicion of Torching King’s Portrait

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Thai Pop Star-Activist Arrested on Suspicion of Torching King’s Portrait Thai musician and activist Chaiamorn “Ammy” Kaewwiboonpan, 32, receives roses as he arrives at the Attorney General’s office in Bangkok to be charged with Lese-Majeste, Feb. 17, 2021.

Police on Wednesday arrested Chaiamorn “Ammy” Kaewwiboonpan, a Thai pop star-turned-activist, for allegedly burning a portrait of King Maha Vajiralongkorn in front of a jail during an anti-government protest over the weekend, police and a lawyers’ group said.

Ammy, 32, was arrested at a rented house in Ayudhya, a province north of Bangkok, hours before dawn, metropolitan police said. He admitted to setting the fire in a social media post from a hospital room.

“[Investigators] preliminarily charged him with arson of properties and are considering pressing a Lese-Majeste charge,” Lt. Gen. Pakpong Pongpetra, chief of the Metropolitan Police Bureau, told a press conference Wednesday, adding that the authorities have solid evidence against him.

Ammy’s lawyer said he was charged with Lese-Majeste – the nation’s strict royal defamation law. He is at least the 61st person to face the charge since November 2020, months after youth-led pro-democracy protests began last July. Those convicted under the law face 15 years in prison per count.

Arson of government property may be subject to a maximum penalty of death, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), an NGO whose members represent protesters.

Local media showed Ammy falling after climbing a scaffolding in front of Klong Prem Central Prison on Sunday, while holding a portrait of King Maha Vajiralongkorn (Rama X) as he called for the release from a different prison of four protest leaders. These included Arnon Nampa and Parit Chiwarak, who were charged with Lese-Majeste and sedition on Feb. 9.

“At the time of his arrest, Ammy’s left shoulder and his left pelvis were injured. We took him to the Ayudhya Hospital and later had him under custody at the Police General Hospital in Bangkok,” Lt. Gen. Pakpong Pongpetra, chief of the Metropolitan Police Bureau, told a press conference Wednesday, adding Ammy was injured before his arrest.

From his hospital room, Ammy posted a photo of himself on Instagram showing his ankle chained.

“The arson of the king’s portrait was my work and I assume sole responsibility. It has nothing to do with any movements,” he said in the posting, adding that he took frustration for not being able to help secure the release of the four activists  who had been charged with Lese-Majeste.

On its Facebook page, the TLHR said lawyers and Ammy’s relatives were not allowed to visit him in the police hospital because of COVID-19 concerns.

On Sunday, about 2,000 pro-democracy demonstrators, mainly from the group “Restart Democracy,” or REDEM, marched from the Victory Monument toward the residence of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, but they tangled with police.

Authorities arrested 22 suspects, including four minors younger than 18, according to the TLHR and the Central Juvenile and Family Court.

A riot policeman, Capt. Wiwat Sertsanit, 47, died of heart failure after collapsing during clashes with protesters near the PM’s residence that day, to become the first fatality linked to pro-democracy demonstrations since July.

Freedom House downgrade

In a report released Wednesday, U.S.-based Freedom House noted the crackdown on protesters since the demonstrations began in July 2020 for its decision to downgrade Thailand in its “Freedom in the World 2021” report.

“Protests in Thailand calling for democratic reforms were met with arrests and use of water cannons against demonstrators. The Thai military’s violent crackdown on dissent and the abolition of a popular opposition party reversed previous democratic progress, and as a result Thailand’s status changed from Partly Free to Not Free,” the report said.


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