BANGKOK: A set of emoticons satirising Thailand’s royal family have been removed by the messaging application Line, in a country where discussion of the monarchy is tightly controlled by a draconian royal insult law.
Japan-based Line said it had removed the “culturally sensitive sticker set” because it caused “discomfort among our users in Thailand“, in a statement published on its Facebook page Thursday.
The kingdom’s lese majeste legislation is one of the world’s harshest, carrying a 15-year jail sentence per offence.
It specifically outlaws criticism of the queen, the king and his anointed successor, but is broadly interpreted to silence even tangential references to members of the family and the monarchy.
Most of the stickers referenced scandals and rumours that have trailed the royal family despite efforts to control its image inside the kingdom.
Other, more benign stickers showed royalty partaking in hobbies often publicised by the palace’s media arm, such as King Bhumibol Adulyadej playing a saxophone.
Cached webpages of Line’s “sticker store” show the set of cartoon images was available at 1700 GMT on Tuesday for US$0.99.
Line is the most popular messaging platform in Thailand and is similar to Whatsapp or Viber.
The company produces its own animated stickers that users can send each other, but also allows people to design their own and sell them through its online store.
The royal family stickers were created by a user, not the company.
On its website, Line says it “reviews (sticker) submissions against our sales criteria” before they go live.
In February, the company removed same-sex emoticons from its marketplace in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, on orders from the government.
Lese majeste prosecutions have sky-rocketed in Thailand under the ultra-royalist junta that seized power in a 2014 coup, with many Thais targeted for social media postings deemed defamatory.
The royal family has become an increasingly sensitive topic as the ailing 88-year-old Bhumibol, the world’s longest reigning monarch, enters his twilight years.
The generals have pressured social media giants, including Facebook, Google and Line, to help scrub the web of any lese majeste content, holding a series of meetings with executives at those companies earlier this year.
Some Thai social media users criticised Line for deleting the stickers and demanded a refund.
“I would like to know whether Line will take responsibility for those customers who paid money (for the stickers),” wrote Twitter user @RishdanPort.
Thailand’s military junta have also used Line for their own purposes.
Seven months after seizing power, it unveiled a series of animated stickers promoting their “Twelve Values“, a series of patriotic and conservative principles espoused by the military royalist establishment.
One sticker showed a cartoon woman hugging a heart in the colour of the Thai flag with the slogan: “Love the nation, religion and the king.”
Thailand’s ministry of information did not immediately respond to requests to comment.--AFP