June 2, 2014

Reading as an act of protest in Thailand


Bangkok after Thai Royal Army coup d'etat government on May 23,2014 in Bangkok. ©Prasit Rodphan. Via Shutterstock

Bangkok after Thai Royal Army coup d’etat government on May 23,2014 in Bangkok.
©Prasit Rodphan. Via Shutterstock

George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four has become a symbol of protest in a country where the government has become increasingly Orwellian. Following a military coup in Thailand last month, the ruling junta has threatened to crack down on even peaceful protests, and, Todd Pitman writes for the Associated Press (linked here via The Huffington Post), the act of reading in public has itself became “an act of resistance.”

Last Saturday, a small group of protesters sat down on a busy elevated walkway in Bangkok, and proceeded to read books that expressed their anger over the army’s takeover of the Thai government. In addition to Nineteen Eighty-Four, they had titles such as Unarmed Insurrection, The Politics of Despotic Paternalism, and The Power of Non-Violent Means.

Pitman describes some of the measures the army has taken that are driving the protests:

Since taking over, the military has made clear it will tolerate no dissent, and it has launched a major campaign to silence critics and censor the media. The junta has warned all citizens against doing anything that might incite conflict, and the list of targets has been long.

At least 14 partisan TV networks have been shut down along with nearly 3,000 unlicensed community radio stations. Independent international TV channels such as CNN and BBC have been blocked along with more than 300 Web pages, including New York-based Human Rights Watch’s Thailand page. Journalists and academics have been summoned by the army. Activists have fled.

One of the book-bearing activists, who—fearing repercussions—asked only to be identified by the nickname Mook, told the AP, “People are angry about this coup, but they can’t express it… So we were looking for an alternative way to resist, a way that is not confrontational. And one of those ways is reading.”

Some bookstores, meanwhile, have pulled potentially controversial books from their shelves, including one of Bangkok’s bigger stores, Kinokuniya. While it hasn’t yet pulled Orwell, protester Kasama Na Nagara points out, “We have Big Brother watching us now. It has become too risky to speak out. It’s sad. But it’s safer to be silent in Thailand right now.”


Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.