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A co-producer of the banned Thai film "Shakespeare Must Die", which has been construed as a criticism of Thaksin Shinawatra and the red shirts, said he will launch a petition campaign to overturn the Film Board's April 3 decision to outlaw screenings of the work.

"Most people cry for [freedom of expression] when they have no power. Once they have power they don't want to give the freedom to others. Every government and every political group is like that," Manit Sriwanithpoom told The Nation by phone yesterday, adding that if the red shirts can't handle criticism, they should stop calling their movement democratic.

The film is set in a fictitious kingdom in which a power-mad politician eventually commits regicide. Supporters of this autocratic leader then lynch the director of an adaptation of William Shakespeare's play "Macbeth", who tries to expose the fraudulent leader.

The Film Board simply informed 50-year-old Manit that the film was banned from being screened, sold or distributed in the Kingdom because it would "cause disunity among people in the country", with no further explanation offered to the producer.

"There was no justification," said Manit, who added that the board told him to alter the film - without saying which parts should be changed - if he wanted the film to be cleared for screening. "They said they're worried about it because the country is in a reconciliatory mode."

Manit believes the film was banned because it can be interpreted as being critical of Thaksin and the red shirts. In the film, which contains no direct references to Thailand, Siam or the like, the power-hungry politician eventually usurps power from the king, while supporters of "Excellency the Leader" want him to rule the country in a dictatorial fashion.

"Red shirts may think I'm defaming Thaksin and the reds but I am not. Is the lese majeste law now expanded to protect Thaksin and the red shirts? They must listen [to criticism] and have no right to ban things. Whether they agree or disagree, they must be open-minded. If they think [the film] should be banned, then they should change their name [from that of a pro-democracy movement]," said Manit, who's also a well-known artist and art photographer.

Manit said one of the seven members of the Film Board insisted to him that the film had to be banned because Thais can't separate reality from fiction when they see a film. Manit thinks differently, saying Thai society is divided anyhow, with or without the film - which is directed by his partner, Ing Kanjanavanit - between staunch critics of Thaksin on one side, and red shirts on the other. He plans to submit a petition to the Culture Ministry, which has oversight of the Film Board, on April 17.

Manit said film is arguably the country's most heavily censored medium, being more tightly controlled than newspapers, television, radio and the Internet. Under the Film Act, those who violate bans can face up to a year in prison and be fined up to Bt100,000, or both. Manit said he is contemplating defying the ban and screening it in a public venue, braving arrest in order to demonstrate that there's no freedom or democracy in this country.

"Why don't they let the people exercise their own judgement?" asked Manit. "I told them please don't ban [the film], because it will become news all over the world, but they didn't say anything."

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