Thailand takes lèse-majesté seriously -- as Yale University Press is finding out.
The Thai government has blocked access in the country to the Yale University Press Web site because it includes information about a forthcoming, critical biography of Thailand's king. The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thailand's Bhumibol Adulyadej is described in Yale publicity materials as the story of "how a king widely seen as beneficent and apolitical could in fact be so deeply political, autocratic, and even brutal." The author is Paul Handley, a journalist who spent much of his life reporting from Asia, including 13 years in Thailand.
The book is due out this summer -- in a year in which Thailand will be celebrating the 60th year of the king's reign. The book acknowledges his popularity with the Thai people, but -- according to the press -- "portrays an anti-democratic monarch who, together with allies in big business and the murderous, corrupt Thai military, has protected a centuries-old, barely modified feudal dynasty."
An official at the Thai Embassy in Washington said that reports about the Yale Press Web site being blocked were "just hearsay." The official, who would talk only on the condition that he not be identified, said he was not familiar with the forthcoming biography.
He said it would be impossible for him to respond to any question involving a book with criticism of the king. "All Thais revere the king and there is a law that he may not be criticized," he said. "You can't criticize the king because there is nothing to criticize him about."
In Thailand, the assistant minister of information and communication technology, Kanawat Wasinsangworn, confirmed for the Associated Press that the Yale Press Web site had been blocked "following a request from the Royal Police Bureau, which deems the book is insulting to the king."
The Yale University Press released a statement Thursday in which it said that "the author stands behind this book 100 percent, as does the press." The statement described the book as "dispassionate in tone and temperament" and said that it had been "thoroughly vetted both by leading scholars in the field and by the Yale University Press Faculty Committee."
The book is significant, the statement said, because it "recasts post-1932 Thai political history to include the monarchy's role (which has been skirted and omitted by every other modern history of the country)."
The title of the book, about the king not smiling "refers, simply, to the Buddhist concept of uppeka, or equanimity, in the projection of the king's image."
John Kulka, senior editor at the press, said that the Thai government had not contacted Yale about the biography and that he did not think it was possible that anyone in the Thai government could have seen a draft of the book. Kulka said Yale did not have any plans to try to get the Thais to change their minds. "Thailand has its own laws," he said. "Who is Yale University Press to dictate to the Thai government? We're about publishing books."