Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is suing a popular cartoonist for defamation over a comment he posted on Facebook comparing the leader to a prostitute for “selling out her country”.
In a lawsuit filed on May 3, 2013, Yingluck accuses Chai Rachawat of insulting an official during an official event, defaming another person via publicity, and violating the 2007 Computer Crime Act, which prohibits posting defamatory comments against others online.
Chai, who illustrates for best-selling newspaper Thai Rath, was reacting to a controversial speech given by Yingluck when he posted on his Facebook page:
Please understand…the female prostitute is not a bad person. The prostitute is merely selling her body. But that bad woman is selling out her country.
This is the first time in her two-year premiership that Yingluck, who is Thailand's first female prime minister, has sued a citizen for commenting on a social media network.
During the 7th Ministerial Conference on the International Democracies in Mongolia, Yingluck, who is the younger sister of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted by a coup in 2006, gave a speech that ruffled many feathers back home. In it she shared her experience as a warning to other leaders about the collapse of democracy in her country and the pain that had put her family through.
Thaksin later went into self-exile to avoid a jail sentence for alleged corruption.
An excerpt from Yingluck's candid speech delivered April 29, 2013:
We all thought that the new era of democracy finally arrived in Thailand….this was not true. An elected government, which won two elections with majority, was overthrown in 2006. Thailand lost track and the people spent nearly a decade trying to regain democratic freedom…My brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, was a rightful elected leader. Many of you who don't know me say that ‘why complain?’ This is a normal process that government comes and goes. If I and my family were the only one suffering, I might just let it be. But this was not. Thailand suffered…rule of law in the country was destroyed…the people felt their rights and liberties were wrongly taken away…
She even criticized some features of Thailand's Constitution:
It is clear that elements of anti-democratic regime still exist. The new constitution, drafted under the coup leaders led government, put in mechanisms to restrict democracy.
A good example of this is that half of the Thai Senate is elected, but the other half is appointed by a small group of people. In addition, the so called independent agencies have abused the power that should belong to the people, for the benefit of the few rather than to the Thai society at large.
A video of her speech was uploaded on YouTube:
Her words sparked outrage among the opposition, the military, the media and the senate, while prompting lively online discussions. Many took out their frustration on Facebook.
Nearly 60 senators denounced Yingluck's action and demanded she apologize to the Thai people. Senator Nareewan Jintakanon reminded [th] Yingluck that Thaksin was ousted because he abused power:
The prime minister claimed her brother was mistreated. This is not the whole truth. The 2006 coup d'état was launched because Thaksin abused his power; had conflict of interest and lacked any moral ethics to lead a country.
Vasit Dejkunjorn, a retired high-ranking Royal Court Security police officer condemned Yingluck's “stupidity” for telling others that Thailand is unstable when her job is to promote the country to foreign investors.
Chai's comment further set the online world aflame, with many slamming the remark. On popular web board Pantip, a group of netizens established “We hate Chai Ratchawat Group” in response to his Facebook remarks. ban_rach16 wrote that what Chai posted was not satire:
A political cartoonist shouldn't hit this low. This is not political satire, it's making a mess
Another web board, Ban Ratchadamneon, had many anti-Chai Ratchawat posts. Ta Kob Dong commented:
He [Chai] has no morality but was elevated to a high position. Now we all see his true colors
Meanwhile, a group of Red Shirts, the name for supporters of the political group United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship which opposes the 2006 coup that toppled Yingluck's brother, stormed newspaper Thai Rath headquarters demanding Chai's dismissal. A protester held a sign:
Why being a prostitute is so bad? There are many prostitutes who love their country. Unlike some media who sells out and forgets its own ideals.
A new “Thai Spring” website was launched as a venue for Yingluck's opposition to have their say, following outrage from her speech. Inspired by the pro-democracy Arab Spring movements, the site aims to launch a petition against the government. The “petition against the speech in Ulaanbaatar” has over 23,000 signatories as of May 21, 2013.
The saga is far from over as other anti-Yingluck websites mushroomed in the Thai cyberspace, prompting her brother, Thaksin, to give a threatening remark during his recent Skype video conference with thousands of Red Shirt supporters, marking the third anniversary of the deadly military crackdown on the group's protests in 2010.
“The Thai Spring website would never be ‘sprung’,” claimed Thaksin.