08 July 2023

Rama X:
The Thai Monarchy under King Vajiralongkorn

Rama X
Royal Gazette

As the proverb says, don’t judge a book by its cover. But a forthcoming academic book, Rama X: The Thai Monarchy under King Vajiralongkorn, has been banned from distribution in Thailand on the basis of its cover. It will be published in the US later this year, and anyone importing it into Thailand faces up to three years in jail and/or a ฿60,000 fine. Police are authorised to confiscate and destroy any imported copies of the book, as it may contravene the lèse-majesté law.

The announcement of the ban was published in the Royal Gazette (ราชกิจจานุเบกษา) yesterday (vol. 140, no. 163, p. 45). It misidentified the book—the word ‘under’ is missing from the subtitle—though anyone charged with distributing it would presumably be unwise to rely on that technicality for their defence.

Rama X has not yet been published, thus the ban is based on its cover and the reputation of its editor, Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai academic who left the country to avoid being detained by the junta after the 2014 coup. (Similarly, Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s book A Kingdom in Crisis was banned based on newspaper reviews.)

Official bans on books and print media are rare, as their announcement in the Royal Gazette draws attention to the publications in question (the so-called ‘Streisand effect’). Harry Nicolaides, for example, sold only a handful of copies of his self-published novel Verisimilitude, though it became an international headline once it was banned. An issue of the French magazine Marie Claire was banned seven years ago. Two books by Giles Ji Ungpakorn, A Coup for the Rich and Thailand’s Crisis, are also on the banned list. An issue of the Thai journal Same Sky (ฟ้าเดียวกัน; vol. 3, no. 4) was banned due to its interview with scholar Sulak Sivaraksa. The most notorious title on the list, Paul M. Handley’s The King Never Smiles, was published, like Rama X, by Yale University Press.

Pavin’s previous books, such as Coup, King, Crisis and “Good Coup” Gone Bad, were not banned, though they are not available within Thailand. Sarakadee (สำรคดี) magazine (vol. 22, no. 260) published an extensive article on the history of book censorship, and Underground Buleteen (no. 8) printed a list of books banned between 1932 and 1985.