A week and a half after the army has seized power the Thailand, the simple act of reading books in public has become an act of resistance used by protesters to make a point. On Saturday about approximately a dozen people had gathered in the most public space of the city, a large and busy elevated walkway which connects some of the most luxurious shopping malls. The protesters sat down with their novels, many reading George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, a dystopian fiction about life under totalitarian regime.
This small gathering was an act of defiance against the army which has vowed to crack down on anti-coup protesters. The anti-coup protesters have been demanding a return to civilian rule and elections from the leader of the junta, General Prayuth Chan-ocha. Meanwhile Chan-ocha had stated that the coup was necessary and the military had no choice but to intervene after six months of protests that had crippled the former government. The protests had even caused violence in which 28 people had died while more than 800 were injured.
People are angry, as they fear for saying or doing the wrong thing and then being detained. In some parts of the country holding a sign that calls for peace is enough to be arrested. This means that many who want to express their discontent are unable to do so without risking their freedom. Reading has been found to be an alternative way to resist the current Junta government, the act is not confrontational, while the defiance is subtle. It appears in the titles of the books that were chosen, such as Unarmed Insurrection, The Politics of Despotic Paternalism, and The Power of Non-Violent Means among many others. While the junta government has banned any political gatherings of more than five people, it is unclear what kind of laws, if any, are broken during low-key protests like this one.
This is a second coup, in Thailand over the past eight years. The elected government had been insisting for many months that the nation’s democracy was under attack from the courts, protesters and even the army.
When the military took over, overturning the elected government, it has made clear that no dissent will be tolerated, since then it has launched a campaign that will silence media, academics and critics of the coup. The junta had issued a warning to all citizens that doing anything that may result in conflict will result in a possible arrest.
In Thailand, over a dozen partisan TV networks were shut down, together with almost 3,000 community radio stations. All of the independent international TV channels such as BBC or CNN have been blocked by the Junta government. On the Internet, more than 300 Web pages were also blocked. All academics and journalists were summoned by the army and forced to turn themselves in. Any potential activists have fled the country.
On Wednesday, Thailand has suffered a sudden interruption of access to Facebook which had fueled widespread speculation in the country that the Junta rulers were testing out their new censorship power. Meanwhile, Chan-ocha insisted that the interruption was just a technical glitch.
While there are only just about 20 people participating in the public book readings, the group has marked Saturday as a third day of such protests. When the gathering was supposed to commence their book readings on Friday, the troops had showed up and the protesters called off the demonstration. In Thailand, books are the only way to resist the current totalitarian government.
By Ivelina Kunina