Bra workers stand up for right to sit down for the king
NEARLY 1,000 bra makers protested outside the German embassy in Bangkok yesterday in a labour dispute stemming from the vexed issue of whether Thais have the right not to stand up in honour of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
The workers chanted slogans accusing the bosses of Body Fashion, part of German lingerie firm Triumph International, of unfairly sacking union leader Jitra Kotchadej after she wore a T-shirt questioning the convention of rising for the royal anthem before films.
According to the union, Jitra, 36, was sacked in July for wearing a T-shirt saying "Not standing is not a crime; different thinking is no crime" while on a television discussion about abortion rights.
Innocuous enough to the outsider, the slogan is however, an explicit reference to an unprecedented campaign questioning the semi-divine reverence in which many Thais hold the king.
In the case that sparked the campaign, Thai police in April formally accused 27-year-old Chotisak Oonsong of lse majest, or insulting the monarchy, for refusing to stand when the royal song and video were shown before a film.
Chotisak said he was only exercising his constitutional right to freedom of expression, but risks up to 15 years in jail under the nation's draconian lse majest laws. The chargehas become a common feature of the poisonous political atmosphere that has followed the openly royalist 2006 coup against the then prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thaksin's opponents, a monarchist group called the People's Alliance for Democracy, jumped on Jitra's TV appearance and threatened a boycott of all Triumph products unless she was given the boot.
The company complied, and has refused to reinstate her even though Jitra says she was unaware of the slogan's significance. "It was just another campaign T-shirt that I wore to help my activist friends," she said.
In a statement, Body Fashion accused Jitra of "engaging in highly public and controversial political activity on TV" and said it had sacked her, in accordance with labour laws, for damaging its reputation and business.
King Bhumibol, 80, has said he should not be above criticism, although few have dared to take the risk.
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