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Thailand bans book criticising 2006 coup

BANGKOK (Reuters) - An academic book critical of Thailand’s 2006 military coup and raising questions about the political role of the monarchy has been banned, police said on Monday, the latest book to run afoul of tough lese majeste laws.

“A Coup for the Rich”, by political scientist Giles Ungphakorn, was ordered off the shelves at Thammasat University’s bookstore last week, the only shop in Thailand that sold the 144-page book.

“The book has been banned and is under investigation concerning charges of lese majeste,” police lieutenant Santi Piwtongkam told Reuters.

The book, which criticises the bloodless 2006 coup against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, “included material on the Thai monarchy and references to the ‘The King Never Smiles’, which is also banned,” Santi said.

‘The King Never Smiles’, by U.S. journalist Paul Handley, was banned in January 2006 because it “could disrupt public order and the good morals of society”.

It portrays King Bhumibol Adulyadej as an austere and deeply political monarch whose overarching desire for stability and unity during 61 years on the throne has stifled Thailand’s democratic development.

Many of Thailand’s 63 million people regard King Bhumibol as semi-divine and credit him with steering the country through huge political and social turbulence, including more than a dozen military coups.

Even though the King himself made it clear in 2005 that he should not be above criticism, draconian lese majeste laws make any insult or threat to the monarchy punishable by up to 15 years in jail.

Ungphakorn, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University which refused to sell the book, said he had not been contacted by police.

“The first inkling I received was when Thammasat returned the unsold copies today,” he told Reuters. “Given that the print run was almost sold out, it’s a bit late to be cracking down”.