Since last Summer I have also worked as a coordinating editor of Southeast Asia for documenta 12 magazine, which is an ambitious project that will bring magazines (both printed perodcals and on-line media ) into an art context to connect theory and practise, and the audience and artists for documenta 12, and beyond, as it is forming also a permanent network of magazines from all over the world.
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 1973, 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 lese majeste. 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. Lese majeste has been use as a political tool, but recently under the Thaksin government the number of cases have increased. Most of the countries in the world today do not prosecute their citizens for lese majeste. Thailand is thus an exception, and this charge against the 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 such as this 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 case of lese majeste charges against the prominent thinker and engaged 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 lese majeste). 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 fronti?res) expressed dismay (http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=16956) over this and other similar cases in Thailand. These recent cases of lese majeste charge against Fah Diew Kan and other anti-Thaksin campaigners sparked into a movement for the constitutional amendment on the clause of lese majeste.
Georg Schöllhammer, the chief editor of the "documenta magazines" and I agreed to form a campaign group "Friends of Fah Diew Kan" in an immediate action. We would like to appeal to our fellow citizens 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 Thanapol Eawasakul.
What can you do:
Please collect the petitions in your circle. How you do it? After you explain what it is for, your friend can send you a message "Please lift the ban of Fah Diew Kan Oct-Dec 05 issue, and lift the charge of lese majeste on Thanapol Eawasakul, the publisher/editor of the Fah Diew Kan" together with his/her name and/or the name of the organization. If there is any further statement to the Thai government, that's welcome and if there is any message to the publisher/editor Thanapol Eawasakul, that's welcome, too. You can collect them in your capacity, can be three, five, or ten. Usually an organization is more effective than an individual name for an international pressure like this, but if you cannot find any organization that agrees to sign the petition, any individual who agrees with it is fine. After you collect them, please send all to: email@example.com
Caution: When you do it, please write a subject as "Fah Diew Kan". And please do not use my address even for Cc for sending out petition (any question regarding this as well as personal message is welcome to my address).
After that we will forward the petition and the statement to the Ministry of Interior and other concerned agencies as well as to the Thai press, and your message to the publisher/editor. Please note, however, that the aim of this campaign is not to raise the question of whether or not Thailand should cease to punish lese majeste 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, and most of all, the demand for press freedom in general. The action has to take place urgently, so your swift response would be appreciated greatly.
I would very much appreciate your effort for helping democracy in Thailand and South East Asia, and looking forward to hearing from you.