Thailand ‘bans’ Economist

Dec 9, 2008

BANGKOK – THIS week’s edition of the Economist magazine has been banned in Thailand for articles critical of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, bookstore staff said on Monday, although it was unclear who ordered the ban.

Neither the police, Foreign Ministry nor Culture Ministry – home to the official censor – said they knew of a formal ban on the magazine, which acknowledged in the article that many Thais would ‘squirm’ at its breaching of the taboo on discussion of the king’s role in politics.

‘It’s been banned but we don’t know who by,’ said one AsiaBooks store attendant, who did not wish to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject. ‘It’s because of what they said about the king.’

Free speech activist CJ Hinke, who runs Freedom Against Censorship Thailand, said the most likely explanation was distributors deciding themselves not to sell the edition, which questioned the palace’s official position ‘above politics’.

‘This is one of those ‘cultural harmony’ bans, where the book distributors and stores take it on themselves not to distribute,’ Mr Hinke said.

‘The government’s concern, as usual, is all about saving face. Thais do not want their dirty laundry aired in foreign languages overseas. They don’t want foreigners discussing Thai issues and Thai problems,’ he said.

A spokeswoman for AsiaBooks, a leading seller of foreign periodicals, denied any informal ban, saying the edition had been disrupted by protests at Bangkok’s airports last week – a disruption that had no effect the previous week when the protests were in full swing.

The latest editions of Time and Newsweek are available in the Thai capital.

The articles questioned the neutrality of the palace in the political turmoil that has roiled the country for the last three years. Under Thailand’s strict lese majeste laws, any perceived insult of the monarchy is punishable by up to 15 years in jail.

It is not known what the king thinks of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) movement, which occupied the airports for eight days. However, Queen Sirikit attended the funeral in October of a female PAD demonstrator killed in clashes with the police.

In addition, the PAD constantly cited as its raison d’etre the need to protect the monarchy from an alleged plot by ousted and exiled leader Thaksin Shinawatra to turn Thailand into a republic.

Many of the country’s 65 million people regard the king as a semi-divine and beneficent ‘Father of the Nation’ who has acted as a firm and wise hand on the tiller guiding the country safely through the turbulent waters of the last 50 years.

A spokesman for the Economist, whose southeast Asia correspondent recently left Thailand, was not immediately available for comment.

The two articles in question remained freely available via Thai Internet servers four days after first being posted. — REUTERS



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