KOH SAMUI – A 43 year-old Thai woman accused of insulting the country’s late king was forced to kneel before his portrait at 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 passed away 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, 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.”
Authorities are also urging 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 stressed the need for tolerance.
There have been reports of price gouging as demand for such clothing has surged since the Kings passing 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 behavior 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.
A video showed the crowd blocking the road outside a soy milk shop and waving placards with slurs such as “buffalo,” a slang word for stupidity. Some shouted for the man to come out.
Thailand has a draconian lese majeste law that imposes stiff prison sentences for actions or writings regarded as derogatory toward the monarch or his family.
The operator of Thailand’s main cable TV network has blocked foreign news broadcasts deemed insensitive to the monarchy since Bhumibol’s death.
Separately, Bhumibol’s second daughter, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, appeared Monday at her first public event since the king’s passing. She was named a special ambassador for “Zero Hunger” for the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization to mark World Food Day.
Although all official events have been canceled, the fact that Sirindhorn attended showed the importance she attached to the cause.
Sirindhorn’s acceptance of the role “will greatly improve awareness of both policymakers and the public of what, collectively, we must do to achieve a world without hunger,” said Kundhavi Kadiresan, the FAO’s regional representative for Asia and the Pacific.
FAO estimates there are nearly 800 million undernourished people in the world. The Asia-Pacific region is home to most, with 490 million not receiving enough calories to live healthy lives.