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A cofounder of popular wellness brand Karmakamet drew ire for floating a conspiracy theory that alarming images of bodies lying in Bangkok’s streets have been staged to discredit the government.

In a now-deleted Facebook post, Natthorn Rakchana, who owns a stake in the company, wrote Thursday that bodies seen in photos were “hired to play dead, and the police are chasing them down. Don’t fall for these country-haters’ tricks,” using a common epithet for government critics.

Coming amid government efforts to muzzle criticism of its failings by criminalizing it, Natthorn’s comments provoked swift fury online.

Netizens were angry; some vowed to ditch the products altogether.  

“Saw the owner of this aromatics brand posting about how people are staging their deaths on the streets to discredit the government. Okay, I’m done with you now. Won’t use your products ever again,” YouGottaGoTH wrote in a Twitter thread reshared more than 40,000 times as of publication. Hours later Karmakamet apologized. 

Thai girls bound for orphanage after watching mom die at home

The images of bodies left unattended because medical resources have been strained past their breaking point has hardened already deep dissatisfaction with the military-backed government’s handling of the pandemic. 

Falling back on its worst impulses, the authorities have sought to simply force people to stop talking. 

Col. Kritsana Pattanacharoen, national police spokesperson, warned people yesterday not to “fake their own deaths” in the street as the action is punishable by law.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha last night took aim at his critics by ordering a crackdown on “fake news” under his 16-month old state of emergency, banning any information that could “lead to misunderstanding and affect national security,” even if true.

The order allows state broadcast and telecoms regulators to shut down any media outlet deemed in violation.  It also compels ISPs to shut off the internet to any offending parties. 

In an unusually forceful statement, six Thai media associations said Wednesday that the government had ignored its call to reconsider the measure or insure it would not be misused.

“The Prime Minister’s insistence on enforcing the new measures, along with the recent attempts by his government to intimidate and take legal action against members of the public who simply exercise their constitutional rights to criticize the administration during the COVID-19 pandemic, clearly reveal an intent to crack down on the freedom of expression enjoyed by the media and the public,” it read, according to a translation by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand.

They vowed to stand up against attempts to muzzle the press.

“In the coming days, we will continue to campaign against the government’s new measures until the authorities realize that their efforts to silence freedom of expression and freedom of the press will only contribute to the government’s downfall,” it concluded.

As for Karmakamet, six hours after Natthorn’s original post, the brand published an apology last night.

“We wish to ensure that the company doesn’t share this view with Khun Natthorn,” Karmakamet said in a statement. “We have contacted Natthorn to inquire about his reasons for posting his online comments and found it’s been a misunderstanding on his part.” 

The brand vowed not to repeat the same mistake and said dehumanizing people was not consistent with its values. But that may have come too late to salvage its reputation, as others seized the chance to promote lesser-known alternatives.

This article, Fury over claims people ‘playing dead’ in street, ThaiGov moves to muzzle critics, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia’s leading alternative media company.

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