Readers, Activists Reclaim ‘Freedom to Read’ at National Book Fair

A group of activists wearing identical masks and t-shirts portraying themselves as prisoners held placards calling for the freedom to read, write and publish, amidst the bustling annual National Book Fair at the Queen Sirikit Convention Centre on Sunday. 

 
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Wearing masks with the face of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, a magazine editor who was sentenced to ten years for publishing two articles which were deemed to defame the monarchy, the activists gave out flyers with statements calling on the Publishers and Booksellers Association of Thailand (PUBAT), host of the event, to take a stance on defending the freedom to read and write. 
 
The statement, signed by the ‘Readers’ Group for the Freedom to Read, Write, Publish and Disseminate’, said many writers, translators, publishers and booksellers have been prosecuted for lèse majesté in recent years, resulting in an atmosphere of fear and censorship.   
 
It cited the cases of 69-year-old Bundit Aneeya, who was sentenced to four years for writing and disseminating documents, Thai-American Joe Gordon who was sentenced to two years for translating The King Never Smiles, Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, red shirt activist and magazine editor, and Ekachai Hongkangwan who got three years and four months in prison for selling documentary CDs produced by an Australian broadcaster and some Wikileaks documents about Thailand’s monarchy. 
 
“We want the Association to take a stance on this restriction on publishing and selling books, and to ask for guarantees that no publisher will be jailed just for publishing or selling books,” the statement said, adding that the association should act as a representative to express its concern to the government, as stated in its objective.  
 
One activist, who asked not to be named, said the actions were aimed to communicate to fellow readers that reading in Thailand is still limited by draconian laws. It also contradicts the agenda of UNESCO who earlier designated Bangkok as World Book Capital of 2013, she said. 
 
“We want to reclaim the freedom to read, write, publish, talk and disseminate because it is a basic freedom in democratic society,” she said. 
 
Vasant Panich, Somyot’s lawyer and former member of the National Human Rights Commission, filed a bail appeal for Somyot last week, but the Criminal Court rejected it for the 14th time. On April 30 he will have spent two years in prison.