BANGKOK — A former beauty pageant winner and supporter of the pro-democracy movement went to the police Tuesday to report that a photo of her at a protest was altered to contain messages defaming the monarchy.
Maria Poonlertlarp Ehren, who was crowned Miss Universe Thailand in 2017, visited the Technology Crime Suppression Division and filed cybercrime complaints against those who spread the doctored image. Maria said she tolerates different political opinions, but being criticized for what she did not do is unacceptable.
“I was saddened and deeply moved by the insults arising from the false information,” Maria said. “I have gathered evidence to press charges against eight Facebook users. I will pursue the case to the fullest extent and set an example for society.”
The doctored photo, which went viral on social media after pro-establishment accounts shared it, shows Maria holding a banner saying “I will not take any jobs until this country has no king.”
But Maria said the original photo was taken at Victory Monument on Oct. 17 with the sign that read “Justice for all.”
She said it was meant to demand PM Prayut Chan-o-cha to resign over a police crackdown on a pro-democracy rally the day earlier, in which water cannons were used on the protesters close to the Pathum Wan intersection.
“I don’t know who did it or why, but this is an attempt to instigate hatred,” Maria said. “This distorts the work I have been doing and it isn’t right.”
Siriwat Deepor, deputy chief of the Technology Crime Suppression Division, said investigators will identify individuals behind the posts. He said such action is punishable by the Computer Crime Act, as well as the defamation law.
Maria is one of the few celebrities who openly support and attend the ongoing protests, which call for PM Prayut’s resignation, charter amendment, and monarchy reforms. She was also vocal in the disappearance of activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit, who was allegedly kidnapped in June from his apartment in Cambodia.
At the final round of the Miss Universe contest in 2017, she was asked to name the most important social movement of her generation, in which she answered “young people.”
She lost the crown to Miss South Africa, Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters, who said it was the lack of equal pay when asked about the most important issue women face in the workplace.