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Is Thailand becoming a censored society?

In a sign of continued resistance, red-shirt print media is starting to lift its head again, with at least four publications now available in some parts of Bangkok and beyond. However, the government appears determined to suppress them, or at least stifle the most vocal ones.

At press time yesterday, Red Power magazine editor Somyos Phrueksakasemsuk had reportedly gone into hiding. Somyos' colleague Sriatsara Titali told this writer yesterday that the editor was scheduled to speak at a symposium on the future of the media on Wednesday afternoon in Lat Phrao.

However, he allegedly fled when he heard news of some 10 plainclothes police officers keeping an eye out for him. The charge against Somyos is not clear yet, but the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES) warned last week that the publishers of Red Power might be guilty of defaming the royal institution, though no evidence has been produced so far.

The future of the fortnightly magazine hangs in the balance, since according to Sriatsara, the police "shut" the printing house and the distribution office, though another red-shirt source said the officers merely "visited" it in search of the left-leaning editor.

Another new red-shirt publication is the Bt30 People's Channel weekly. Launched in August, the front page of the second edition (August 5-11) read: "We must confess, we are not sure if the government will allow us to continue. If we are not bullied by the government, we strongly believe the People's Channel will grow by leaps and bounds in a short period of time."

A third publication surfaced last week called the Mahaprachachon Sudsapda (The Great Mass of People Weekender), with red-shirt co-leader Veera Musigapong as its adviser. This is a reincarnation of the Truth Today weekly magazine, now trumpeting "peace and non-violence" in order to thwart possible censorship.

It's no longer like the "good old days", because since May 19 many bookstores and newsagents are refusing to carry red-shirt titles either out of fear of upsetting the authorities or because of their anti-red stance.

A red-shirt supporter said it is only the red-shirt sympathisers and supporters who dare carry these publications.

As a clear sign of the great political divide between the rich and poor, most of these red-shirt publications are found in the periphery or the poorer parts of the capital. There is only one bookshop in the Siam Square area known to this writer that dares carry these magazines and newspapers. However, some red shirts say the content of these publications is not as strong as it was in the past.

It appears as if the censorship of red-shirt media is partially legitimised by society approval, especially those who are against the movement, including many mainstream media outlets. Not only will this anger the red shirts, but it will also deepen the culture of censorship, which will most likely be exploited by those in power in the future.

Thailand is steadily becoming "a censored society" where some trains of thought can be illegal, or even a crime, making speaking about certain taboo topics an exercise in political courage.

Censorship is prevalent in societies that cannot deal with differences openly and peacefully. If those in power can't accept your views, they try to shut you up. If you refuse to shut up, then you end up in jail either over charges of violating the emergency decree, the lese majeste law or the computer crime law. In extreme cases, you can die just like the red-shirt protesters did earlier this year. Killing can be a form of censorship too, you know.


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