BangkokCrimeThailand

Protester jailed for burning King’s portrait

The fire grew stronger as Sitthicok sprayed 'purple liquid' on it

The food delivery rider who attempted to burn a portrait of King Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida during a protest in July 2021 has been sentenced to three and half years in prison. The court ruled that a portrait of the king is equivalent to the king’s person.

Foodpanda delivery rider Sitthichok Sethasavet set fire to a portrait of King Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida at a royal ceremonial arch on Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue during a protest on July 18, 2021. He was charged with royal defamation, arson, destruction of property, and violation of the Emergency Decree.

According to Prachatai English, Sitthichok claimed he was on his way to deliver an order when he passed through the protest on Ratchadamnoen Nok and saw the fire at the royal arch. Since he has experience volunteering in an emergency rescue unit, he tried to put out the fire using a bottle of water mixed with purple grape-flavoured soda that he carried on his motorcycle to drink while working during the day. While he was spraying water onto the base of the portrait, a police officer came to tell him to get down from the arch and that the officer would get a water cannon to put out the fire. But when he get off the arch, the fire had already been put out, so he went to deliver his order and then went home.

That evening, a picture of Sitthichok standing by his motorcycle was posted on Twitter, along with a claim that he set fire to the king and queen’s portrait. Because the photo also showed a pink Foodpanda delivery box, the company’s official account replied to the tweet saying the platform has a policy “against violence and all forms of terrorism” and that the rider in question would be fired immediately. It also said that the platform was willing to help the authorities in pressing charges against the culprit.

The platform’s action ignited flames of outrage among netizens. The hashtag #banfoodpanda trended on Twitter as users called for a boycott of the platform. Foodpanda then released a letter apologising for its message and said that the company was investigating the incident.

Sitthichok was arrested the next day.

Ratchadaphisek Criminal Court found Sitthichok guilty on all charges because there was no evidence he was trying to put out a fire, and because prosecution witnesses testified that the fire grew stronger when Sitthicok sprayed purple liquid on it.

The court ruled that he was guilty of royal defamation because Thai society sees a portrait of the king as being the same as the king himself. It should therefore be respected and cared for. The court also said that he was guilty because Thailand is a democracy with the king as the head of state, and therefore people should not exercise their freedom in a way that is against the monarchy.

The Court sentenced Sitthichok to a total of three years and six months in prison. Because he gave useful testimony, his sentence was reduced to two years and four months.

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Jon Whitman

Jon Whitman is a seasoned journalist and author who has been living and working in Asia for more than two decades. Born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, Jon has been at the forefront of some of the most important stories coming out of China in the past decade. After a long and successful career in East sia, Jon is now semi-retired and living in the Outer Hebrides. He continues to write and is an avid traveller and photographer, documenting his experiences across the world.