In 2019, 47-year-old Yan Eric Marchal was visited by plainclothes police after he released a video on Facebook parodying a song linked to the National Council for Peace and Order or the former military junta. This week, in a chance visit to a Bangkok Immigration Office after he received a new passport from France, he claims to have seen sight of documents relating to his proposed deportation from Thailand which he claimed were linked with Facebook comments after his interview with officers. The Frenchman disclosed that his visa had already been cancelled and he was told he was already overstaying.
A controversial Frenchman, living in Thailand, is breathing a sigh of relief after immigration police appear to have denied a shock deportation move against him, allegedly over online comments posted on Facebook. The long time resident in the kingdom was only made aware of the situation on Monday when he visited an Immigration Bureau office in Bangkok to change his passport. His story highlights the very real danger now being faced by foreigners in Thailand as the political temperature grows between the government and student-led pro-democracy protesters.
He came to prominence last year when he published a video online parodying the former military junta, the National Council for Peace and Order and the Thai PM, Prayut Chan ocha.
Thailand’s Immigration Bureau has responded to press enquiries and dismissed as a ‘misunderstanding’ claims by a controversial Frenchman that his visa to live in Thailand had been revoked because of his online commentaries on political affairs in the kingdom. 47-year-old Yan Eric Marchal has been living in Thailand for the last 17 years and is father to a Thai child while pursuing a career as a games developer.
34-second clip parodying the former junta and the PM led to a police visit last year and a signed apology
The 34-second clip was an instant sensation and was based on a song composed by the Thai Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha, the then junta leader with a theme of restoring happiness to the kingdom.
The video and public reaction to it, last year, led to a visit by plainclothes policemen to Mr Marchal’s residence in an unmarked car which resulted in his signing a memorandum declaring remorse for his actions and asking for forgiveness from the junta and the people of Thailand.
Frenchman claims he was informed this week that his visa was cancelled and he was being deported
The latest scare for Mr Marchal came, this week, on Monday, when he visited the One-Stop Visa Centre operated by the Thai Immigration Police in the Pathum Wan district of central Bangkok. The French man was there to have his visa and relevant stamps transposed to his passport.
However, he was told, instead, that the Immigration Bureau would be deporting him as his visa had been already cancelled.
Mr Marchal told the press that the immigration officer he spoke with appeared to have a file before him which confirmed his proposed deportation and also had details of his online activity.
‘An officer told me that I would be deported. The reason given was my Facebook activity,’ he said. ‘I could see that he had a file with a detailed report on my posts, although he did not let me read the details.’
Openly supported the anti-government protests on social media – ‘I knew the risk’ says Marchal
Mr Marchal has been openly supportive of the current student-led anti-government protests in Thailand. He also told reporters that he saw a document which dealt with his proposed deportation and mentioned his Facebook comments online including one reference to the controversy surrounding the impeding of the royal motorcade carrying Thailand’s Queen Suthida on October 14th in Bangkok which led to three men being arrested and charged.
He told reporters over the phone that he was told that he would have to leave Thailand immediately as he had already overstayed his visa.
Marchal has, in the past, admitted that he has a tendency to be outspoken and was not making excuses, on Monday, when he spoke with reporters.
‘I knew there’s a risk,’ he said. ‘I’m emotionally okay, but have to think about what to do next.’
Tensions are quite high right now and the public is sensitive to commentary outside the kingdom
Tensions in Thailand are running high, at this time, as both sides of what is a deep political divide are caught in a stalemate with the government refusing to yield to the demands of street protesters for the resignation of the prime minister, constitutional reform and an end to legal harassment of political activists.
It is often said that the Thai nation is akin to an extended closely-knit family and many Thais become incensed by foreigners who openly participate in public dialogue and debate about the future of the kingdom most especially when the kingdom is exposed to unrest.
The population is deeply concerned about how Thailand is seen abroad.
The involvement of the monarchy in the political struggle has also raised anxiety levels among the public with 60% opposing calls from the student-led movement to reform the institution within the constitutional framework
National anthem assault incident
On the 27th October last, a 45-year-old food vendor wearing a red shirt, attacked a 15-year-old schoolgirl in uniform for failing to stand up for the national anthem at Ayutthaya railway station at 6 pm.
Since then, the woman has been charged despite issuing an apology as police and senior officials are deeply concerned that the brewing political tensions in the kingdom may get out of hand.
The incident has promoted a debate among some foreigners, living or currently staying in Thailand, as to whether they should also stand for the Thai national anthem with many having been warned that not only is it disrespectful but that it is also illegal not to do so.
Old law repealed quietly in 2010 but any foreigner may still be prosecuted under the Lèse majesté provision
The situation is that the law, which made standing for the national anthem compulsory to promote national pride, was revoked quietly by the Democrat government of Abhisit Vejjajiva in 2010.
However, foreigners can still be prosecuted for failing to stand for Thailand’s national anthem if the police or prosecutors make the case that the failure to do so was a sign of disrespect to His Majesty the King which would be an offence under a strict interpretation of Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code, the famous and draconian Lèse majesté provision which would see a person convicted being jailed for 15 years if found guilty by a Thai court.
There have been incidences of prosecutions being instigated, on this basis, in recent times by the Royal Thai Police following complaints.
Earlier this year, the Thai Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha, told the press that His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn had asked him not to use the legal provision against his subjects.
However, during the current anti-government protests, Thai authorities have used other charges under both the criminal code and the draconian Computer Crime Act to bring prosecutions against those inciting unrest.
Extremely inadvisable to show disrespect or make derogatory comments about Thailand’s affairs
For foreigners living in Thailand, it is extremely inadvisable to make remarks which are disrespectful of the Thai nation or the monarchy.
Many foreigners take a keen interest in Thai political affairs but should know that, for most Thai people, on all sides of the divide, derogatory comments from foreigners are not helpful and unwelcome.
There is also disturbing and growing evidence to suggest that various groups taking part in the political struggle are increasingly pointing the finger at foreigners as being culpable for the escalating crisis.
Last weekend, a Super Poll survey showed that over 80% of the Thai public believe that this was the case with many concerned at the influence of foreign governments.
About the Author
Carla Boonkong is a magazine writer who writes extensively about woman’s issues in Thailand. One of her key subjects is the story of Thailand’s growing influence in the world and the role played by Thai women in the process. She is now a staff writer with Thai Examiner.com in Bangkok. Son Nguyen is an international writer and news commentator specialising in Thai news and current affairs. He commenced working with the Thai Examiner News Desk in May 2018.