In junta-ruled Thai­land, crit­ics turn to com­edy

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Dis­sent has been muted by Thai­land's rul­ing gen­er­als since a 2014 coup. But there is one area where crit­i­cal voices still have some space: hu­mor. With po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity banned, in­ter­net cen­sor­ship in force and ac­tivists and dis­si­dents de­tained or sum­moned for "at­ti­tude ad­just­ment", pub­lic dis­con­tent is be­ing man­i­fested in widely shared car­toons, in­ter­net memes, and par­ody mu­sic videos.

"Thais are be­com­ing more open to what crit­ics and hu­morists are say­ing about the junta and the mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment," po­lit­i­cal satirist Winyu "John" Wong­surawat told Reuters. Winyu is the co-host of YouTube show "Shal­low News in Depth", which uses hu­mor to com­ment on pol­i­tics.

Last week, Thai pop band Tat­too Color re­leased a video for their sin­gle "Dic­ta­tor Girl", which opens with a book ti­tled "44 Rules" - a ref­er­ence to Ar­ti­cle 44, a mea­sure that gives junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha ab­so­lute power in the name of na­tional se­cu­rity. "Dic­ta­tor Girl" in­cludes lyrics such as: "I must ac­cept ev­ery­thing" and "there are no equal rights", not-so­sub­tle ref­er­ences to the rul­ing Na­tional Coun­cil for Peace and Or­der, which has broadly cowed op­po­nents into si­lence.

"We're happy that peo­ple get it and try to in­ter­pret what we meant," Nit­takarn Kaew­piya­sawad, who di­rected the video, told Reuters. Also at the fore­front of the trend is Face­book page, Kai Maew. Known for comic strips fea­tur­ing prom­i­nent po­lit­i­cal fig­ures, it has more than 350,000 fol­low­ers.

It is pro­duced anony­mously.

In one of its most pop­u­lar strips, Prayuth is de­picted in a tank - a nod to the junta's re­cent mil­i­tary spend­ing - past a farmer strug­gling with fall­ing com­mod­ity prices and a civil­ian who can't af­ford health care. An­other Face­book page uses memes from the 2004 movie "Mean Girls" to tackle top­ics in­clud­ing a gen­eral elec­tion that has been pushed back sev­eral times.

"There is more talk, es­pe­cially about the hypocrisy of the mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment. There is laughter, but there is also an im­pact on peo­ple's feel­ings," said Winyu. Gov­ern­ment spokesman Weer­a­chon Sukhon­ta­p­ati­pak warned against pok­ing fun at the mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment on­line be­cause it could breach defama­tion and cy­ber­crime laws.

"Be­fore you do any­thing, please con­sider ex­ist­ing laws and reg­u­la­tions first," he said. In March, Veera Somk­wamkid, an ac­tivist and vo­cal coup critic, was charged over a mock poll that par­o­died the junta's theme song, "Re­turn­ing Hap­pi­ness to Thai­land". There is also one area where com­edy is al­ways off lim­its. Thai­land's monar­chy is pro­tected by one of the world's harsh­est laws against royal in­sult which says any­one who de­fames it can be pun­ished with up to 15 years in prison for each of­fence.

Po­lice have said they will tar­get even those who look at on­line con­tent crit­i­cal of the royal fam­ily. — Reuters

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