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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Appeal for immediate action

Appeal to the editorial boards participating in documenta 12 magazines as well as to other joint magazines, editors, writers etc.

My name is Keiko Sei, I am a researcher and coordinator for “documenta 12 magazines” with responsibility for the Southeast Asian region.

This letter is being sent to you as a coordinated appeal in agreement with the editor in chief of “documenta 12 magazines,” Georg Schöllhammer. We herewith call upon the editorial boards participating in this project as well as upon other magazines, editors, and writers to form a campaign group, “Friends of Fa Diew Kan” in an immediate action. We intend to demand that the Thai government lift its ban on the political quarterly “Fah Diew Kan” (Under the same sky), a contributor to “documenta 12 magazines,” whose editor, Thanapol Eawsakul, is facing charges of lèse-majesté.

“documenta 12 magazines” is not simply a publication; it also intends to create a network of editorial boards of periodicals and online media such as yours, as well as a forum of long-term exchange. I have learned that the participating magazines are renowned and highly prolific publications from different countries that are doing extremely important work. During my research in Southeast Asia, I’ve come across many brilliant and intelligent editors who are striving to serve the community by providing citizens with accurate information, critical analysis and educational materials in a region where democracy is not yet the norm—not one of the ASEAN nations has an impeccable reputation for democracy, and freedom of expression is extremely restricted.

Thailand, however, has been on a good course toward developing a decent democracy, especially after the big movements in 1974, 1976, and 1992—a long battle that required many sacrifices and tremendous efforts of different civic groups and people in the media and in education. These efforts made it possible for people to grow up as educated and informed citizens. It is these educated citizens, who have started to question the long-term effect of what is called Thaksinomics under Prime Minster Thaksin Shinawatra. They form the core of the recent campaign to oust the prime minister. At the same time, these same citizens are debating what methods are appropriate, because some methods would be counter to democracy. Debates, discussions and forums have sprung up in numerous places. It was a great pleasure for me to meet the editors of printed periodicals and online media who have provided the citizens with the basis for those forums, and the basis for thought. The team of “documenta 12
magazines” has been looking forward to work with them for the documenta magazine project.

One of those magazine editors, however, has recently been charged by the Thai police with lèse-majesté. His political quarterly, “Fah Diew Kan” (Under the same sky), has been banned. The latest issue of the magazine is about the Thai monarchy and this issue was targeted (see
the enclosed news articles from the English daily “Bangkok Post” and “The Nation”). The charge of lèse-majesté has been used recently by both pro-Thaksin and anti-Thaksin groups with increasing frequency as a way to damage each other. Some pro-Thaksin groups recently harassed the Nation publishing group under the pretext that one article constituted lèse-majesté and forced the Thai language daily “Kom Chad Luek” to close for five days. The same group is said to be behind the charge against “Fah Diew Kan” and its publisher and editor, Thanapol Eawsakul (the magazine was banned on an earlier occasion when it
criticized government policy in the south and distributed a VCD of the Tak Bai incident*). Lèse-majesté has become a political tool, and the magazine and its publisher/editor has fallen victim to it. Most of the countries in the world today do not prosecute their citizens
for lèse-majesté. Thailand is thus an exception, and this charge against our fellow editor is an exceptional one as well.

When I researched the situation of printed periodicals and online media in Thailand, I found that magazines that address thought-provoking topics and contain serious articles of quality are a strong asset of, and for, the country. The same publisher publishes books on peace studies and designed a highly educational exhibition about the political history of Thailand. The issue focusing on the Thai monarchy was also intended to educate citizens and to provide
information on that institution from perspectives very different from the very official one—a topic that is usually avoided by most of the publishers and editors, who prefer to play it safe. It was thus courageous for the publisher to take on the issue, and now he is
paying a price.

But does he have to? If we step up the pressure from the international community, it will surely affect the decision of the Thai Ministry of Interior. In the past, the prominent case of lèse-majesté charges against the prominent thinker and committed Buddhist Sulak Sivaraksa, whose interview article on the monarchy has been published in the banned edition of “Fah Diew Kan,” caught international attention and he won the cases with the help of international pressure (the latest report says that because of the interview article he is now facing a third charge of lèse-majesté). In Thailand, four journalistic associations—the Thai Journalists
Association, the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association, the Press Council of Thailand, and the Economic Reporters Association—have launched a campaign to bolster press freedom and freedom of expression, and in this particular case of “Fah Diew Kan,” Asian Human Rights Commission has launched an urgent action (see http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2006/1631/) and Reporters without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) expressed dismay (http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=16956) over this and other similar cases in Thailand.

Georg Schöllhammer, the chief editor of the “documenta magazines” and I agreed to form a campaign group “Friends of Fa Diew Kan” in an immediate action. We would like to appeal to the fellow editors, publishers, writers,and scholars to join the group in order to exert pressure to the Thai government to lift the ban of the magazine and the charge against its publisher/editor. Therefore, we ask you to please send:
1. your name
2. the name of your magazine
3. your contact address
4. your statement, if you have any, to the Thai government
5. your message, if you have any, to the publisher/editor Thanapol Eawsakul to this e-mail address: publications@documenta.de

We will forward your statements and the petition to the Ministry of Interior and other concerned agencies as well as to the Thai press, and your message to the publisher/editor. We would also be very grateful if you could inform fellow publishers and editors in your
community to join the campaign as well. Please note, however, that the aim of this campaign is not to raise the question of whether or not Thailand should cease to punish lèse-majesté as a crime. The issue we would like to raise is rather the authorities’ abuse of the law as a way to suppress freedom of the press for political ends (the Thaksin government has used charges of defamation, as well as lèse-majesté, many times).

The goal of this campaign is not only to support the general principle of press freedom and freedom of expression; both Georg Schöllhammer and I would also like to demonstrate our responsibility to all the editors and publishers with whom we are working. We would like to ensure as best we can that they are able work in a safe and free environment.
Keiko Sei : Coordinating Editor
documenta 12 magazines
Bangkok, April 4, 2006

* A summary of the Tak Bai incident is available at:


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