Economist magazine blocked in Thailand again

BANGKOK Fri Jan 30, 2009 10:20am GMT

BANGKOK (Reuters) - The Economist's distributors in Thailand are refusing to circulate the current affairs magazine for a second week running because of an article critical of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and the army.

The article, entitled 'A sad slide backwards', takes Thailand to task for its "astoundingly callous" handling of 1,000 Muslim Rohingya migrants from Myanmar, 500 of whom are feared to have died after being towed out to sea by the army and cast adrift.

"Our distributor in Thailand has decided not to distribute The Economist this week due to our coverage being sensitive," the weekly's Hong Kong spokesman, Ian Fok, said Friday.

A spokesman for the distributor, Asia Books, was not immediately available for comment. A police spokesman said he was unaware of any official ban.

Unlike with previous editions of the magazine that have not been circulated, this week's article makes only cursory mention of the taboo topic of royal involvement in politics and draconian lese majeste laws.

Most of its criticism is aimed at the army and the Oxford-educated Abhisit, whose rise to power last month owes much to the military's 2006 coup against Thaksin Shinawatra and its machinations against the previous government.

The article also suggests the United States should threaten to move its annual Cobra Gold regional war games from Thailand -- a hangover from its Vietnam War-era alliance that begins next week -- to send a signal to Bangkok's generals.

"The Cold War is long over," the article said.

The Economist suffered a similar bar on distribution last week because of local objections to an article about the lese majeste conviction and three-year jail term handed down on a little-read Australian author.

During his six weeks in office, Abhisit has made much of his commitment to human rights and the rule of law, although his government has shut down more than 2,000 websites deemed critical of the monarchy.

A prominent leftist academic has also been charged with lese majeste -- which carries up to 15 years in jail -- for comments made in a 2007 book about the previous year's military coup.

Critics and freedom of speech advocates say the government's crusade to protect the crown in the twilight years of King Bhumibol Adulyadej's six decade reign is a pretext to crush political dissent and opposition.

(Editing by Darren Schuettler and David Fox)

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