By Teeranai Charuvastra
BANGKOK — The Japanese company behind the chat application used by millions of Thais today apologized for briefly selling a set of cartoon ‘stickers’ that lampoon the Thai Royal Family.
The apology came a day after Line Corporation pulled the ‘stickers’ from its online store, and on the same day that police announced an investigation into the persons responsible for the artwork on a charge of insulting the monarchy.
“LINE Corporation is aware of the culturally sensitive sticker set that may have caused discomfort among our users in Thailand. The sticker set in question has been pulled from the LINE Sticker Shop,” the Tokyo-based company posted on Facebook Thursday. “As we take our users concerns seriously and consider cultural aspects of each country, we will continue to improve our LINE Creators Market.”
It added, “We regret any inconvenience this may have caused and appreciate your understanding.”
Line stickers fall into two categories: official ones created by Line, and others created by independent parties and then submitted to Line store.
The offending stickers, which fell into the latter category, went on sale for 30 baht on Line store Wednesday evening. Although Line vets stickers before publishing them, the set apparently managed to slip through the censor because of its innocuous-looking cartoon theme and subtle references only known by those among the Thai anti-monarchy faction.
To avoid potential legal action, Khaosod English is withholding other information about the stickers.
After word about the stickers spread on social media shortly after the set was released, Line removed it from the store later on the same night. By morning, Line also removed the set from from the devices of users who had bought it, without offering any refund.
Thai police launched a criminal inquiry into the incident today, Reuters reported. "We are investigating where the stickers came from and who did this," Col. Somporn Daengdee, deputy chief of the police's Technology Crime Suppression Division, was quoted as saying.
Any remark deemed critical of the monarchy is punishable by up to 15 years in prison per offense according to Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code, a law also known as lese majeste. Republishing the offending remarks also counts as a lese majeste.
Enforcement of the law has grown increasingly harsh since the royalist junta seized power in the May 2014 coup. The junta’s call for a tougher crackdown on discussion about the monarchy led to several attempts to put greater control on the nation’s free-wheeling social media communities.
Several weeks after the coup, Thai authorities asked Line to share records of the application users with them, only to be snubbed by the corporation. In late 2015, the junta mounted an ambitious plan to create a “single gateway” that controls all internet traffic in the Kingdom, citing the need to catch online criminals and monitor inappropriate comments on social media.