Cover illustration by Kittiya On-in

Exiled academic’s book banned ahead of release

A new book edited by Thai academic in exile Pavin Chachavalpongpun has been banned in Thailand ahead of its October 2023 release for being insulting to the monarchy and damaging national security.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun, second from right (Photo from Pavin's personal Facebook page)

A police order was published in the Royal Gazette on 7 July prohibiting the import and distribution of Pavin’s upcoming book “Rama X: The Thai Monarchy King Vajiralongkorn” because the cover and content of the book shows that the writer is insulting or threatening the King, the Queen, or the heir to the throne, and that the book might damage national security or public peace, order, and good morals.

The order also said that bringing the book into the country for distribution carries a prison sentence of up to 3 years, a fine of up to 60,000 baht, or both. It also allows the police to confiscate and destroy any copy of the book.

The order contained a mistake in the title of the book, which is actually called “Rama X: The Thai Monarchy Under King Vajiralongkorn.” It is scheduled to be released in October 2023 by Yale Southeast Asia Studies.

Although the order named Pavin as the book writer, he said in an interview with Prachatai that he only wrote the introduction and one other chapter in the book. The rest are contributions from academics who participated in a workshop in 2019, which, as editor, Pavin has read and edited.

Pavin believes it is outdated to be banning books in 2023, not only because academic freedom should be protected but also because book distribution has changed. He noted that printed book sales have gone down, while e-books are on the rise, and because he plans to publish the book as an e-book, banning its import is pointless. This shows that the Thai authorities still think they can control information that they think might lead to defamation against the King, but this is not possible as information is now being transmitted digitally.

Pavin said his book is being banned because he is the editor, and because of the cover. He said that he did not order the cover design, which was the work of a designer after he gave them a summary of the content. Nevertheless, he said that the cover is exactly what he wants and he is willing to take responsibility for it, noting that the publisher also thinks the cover suits the content.

Not even the contributors have read the book in its final version, Pavin said, noting that the wording used in the police order is the same as the text of the royal defamation law, and that the book was judged by its cover.

“I think it’s an absolutely ridiculous thing for you to ban any book without having read the content. How can you ban it? Are you banning it just because I’m the editor? Are you banning it just because the cover looks like this?” he asked.

“There is a very funny saying: ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’. In the end, they are in fact judging the book by its cover. I’m going to say it again for the last time that no one, not even the people who wrote this book for me, has read the final version that’s being printed. So no one can claim, especially the Thai state, that they saw the content of this book and then they banned it.”

“Rama X: The Thai Monarchy Under King Vajiralongkorn” follows two other books Pavin has published about the Thai monarchy: “Good Coup Gone Bad: Thailand’s Political Development Since Thaksin’s Downfall”, which was about the 2006 military coup, and “Coup, King, Crisis: A Critical Interregnum in Thailand” on the 2014 coup and the transition between the reigns of King Bhumibol and King Vajiralongkorn. “Rama X” covers the reign of King Vajiralongkorn, the relationship between the monarchy and the military, the monarchy’s financial status, and how the monarchy uses its power.

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