Police Say Evidence Shows Singer-Activist Burning Royal Portrait

A file photo of Chaiamorn “Ammy” Kaewwiboonpan.

Update: The band “Bottom Blues” posted a message on its social media account that  Chaiamorn has admitted to setting fire on the portrait of King Rama X to express his opposition to the jailing of four protest leaders on royal defamation charges. The message also quotes Chaiamorn as saying that he acted alone and his actions are not related to any group. 

BANGKOK — Both forensic evidence and eyewitness accounts implicate a pro-democracy activist in the torching of a large portrait of His Majesty the King last week, police said Wednesday.

Chaiamorn “Ammy” Kaewwiboonpan, a singer for pop band “Bottom Blues” who took up activism during the street protests in 2020, is under police custody under suspicions that he and several others conspired to burn the royal portrait outside Klong Prem Prison in the early hours of Sunday. The singer-turned-activist was arrested on Tuesday night.

“Chaiamorn is a conspirator,” Bangkok police commander Phukphong Phongpetra told reporters. “We have witness testimony as well as forensic evidence pointing to him, not just security camera footage.”

Maj. Gen. Phukpong said police will apply for arrest warrants on other perpetrators soon.

Chaiamorn, 32, was charged with royal defamation, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison, as well as arson and damaging public properties. The activist is said to be receiving treatment for unspecified injuries at the Police Hospital; investigators said Chaiamorn suffered a fall after he climbed up to burn King Rama X’s portrait.

Chaiamorn “Ammy” Kaewwiboonpan, wearing a cap, raises the three-finger salute on Oct. 19, 2020, upon his release from Bangkok Remand Prison, where he was jailed for several days for his role in anti-government protests.

Police also released CCTV footage of the incident to the media, allegedly showing Chaiamorn driving his car to the prison at about 3am on Sunday, just before the portrait went up in flame.

His band, Bottom Blues, also shared an image of the royal portrait being burned on its official Facebook account.

But his fellow activist Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul said she remains unconvinced of Chaiamorn’s guilt, unless police can show more evidence they claim to possess.

“I haven’t seen any evidence that clearly implicates Ammy as the wrongdoer,” Panusaya told reporters after a brief rally outside Bangkok Remand Prison.

Portraits of Royal Family members are a common sight in Thailand. The portraits typically decorate government buildings and intersections to honor the monarchy. Defacing or destroying the images is seen as a sign of grave disrespect, punishable under the royal insult law, or lese majeste.

In August 2017, eight teenagers were arrested and charged with lese majeste for allegedly burning down royal portraits in Khon Kaen province. 

A Swiss national was also jailed for several months and deported in 2007 after he was caught defacing the portrait of King Bhumibol.