Foodpanda Rider Charged by Police With Royal Defamation

The controversy surrounding Foodpanda, one of the most well-known food delivery providers in Thailand, has continued into Tuesday with news that the rider at the center of the incident has been charged with insulting the King.

The 25-year-old, who has been named at this point only as Sittichok by Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, was taken into Nang Loeng police station in Bangkok’s Old Town at 10am on Tuesday morning. He had been pictured at Sunday’s Democracy Monument protest burning a royal portrait, and was taken to the station on Monday evening for questioning by authorities.

The crime with which he is charged comes under the Section 112 penal code, commonly known as lese majeste, and carries a 15-year maximum prison sentence.

Sittichok has also faced charges of being in violation of the current emergency decree that bans gatherings larger than five in Bangkok and surrounding provinces.

Foodpanda has been on the receiving end of a huge backlash since Sunday over a Tweet where they vowed to fire their rider who attended an anti-government rally.

In the tweet, they also referred to the incident as an “act of terrorism” and said they were ready to provide assistance to authorities to identify the rider so that they could prosecute him.

The storm that erupted on Sunday evening has been fierce, with social media going into meltdown on Monday over the lack of support for the rider and his right to freedom of speech.

Many consumers and restaurants had called on the public to boycott Foodpanda and there were reports on Monday that up to 2 million users of the app had since deleted it.

A number of demonstrators and journalists were injured on Sunday after clashing with the police in the pro-democracy rally that was centred on Democracy Monument.

Attendees demanded Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s resignation and asked the government to take responsibility for its mismanagement of the pandemic. Hundreds of people had gathered and marched towards Government House, where riot police had been deployed to counter the rally.

Video footage recorded at the scene has shown police officers were firing tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannon at the protesters.

Shortly after, a government supporter shared on Twitter a video of a Foodpanda rider joining the protest. He was reportedly seen burning a royal portrait.

The company immediately responded to the post, saying it would review the situation and fire the rider as he had violated its policies against violence and terrorism.

Soon after on Sunday evening, #BanFoodpanda became a trend on the social media platform Twitter with more than 1.2 million tweets being posted using the hashtag.

Netizens posted that they had removed the Foodpanda app from their smartphones, and were also urging others to deactivate their accounts over the offensive tweet.

By Monday afternoon, the delivery service had reversed their position, issuing a statement to say that they would not be firing the worker, but were still trying to locate him.

“Regarding the rider incident that took place yesterday, we are still trying to find out the identity of the ride. Foodpanda assures freedom of speech and expression is not terrorism and the rider will not be dismissed due to this incident.”

Some restaurants joined the boycott against the company stating they would be withdrawing from the platform as vendors, and no longer offering their food for customers to order.

Chris Steaks and Burgers’ owner Komdech “Chris” Kongsuwun, famous for offering the largest burgers in Thailand, said they would end operations through Foodpanda starting this week.

The owner of a barbecue restaurant named Yang Hai, with more than 300 branches across the country, said he would also drop Foodpanda’s service.

“You will lose at least THB6,000 per day [from each venue]. With all of my 300 branches, you can do all the math,” the chain wrote on Facebook.

Foodpanda has so far not responded to a request for media comment, and the anger has continued into Tuesday on the world wide web.