Subscribers of The International New York Times in Thailand woke up Tuesday to missing papers. The phenomenon wasn’t a vast conspiracy of thoughtless neighbors or the work of a network of wayward dogs, but rather, a conscious effort by the paper’s local printer to block the release of the news.
Tuesday’s front-page story, which prompted this act of censorship, had this headline: “With King in Declining Health, Future of Monarchy in Thailand Is Uncertain.” In it, Thomas Fuller, the Bangkok-based correspondent for The New York Times, writes of a country beset by anxiety over the imminent transition of power as the country’s 87-year-old king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, ails after seven decades on the throne. Fuller writes:
Worries over the transition have accelerated an extremely delicate debate over what kind of monarchy Thailand should have. Delicate because not only is Bhumibol still living, but any open discussion of the subject is severely circumscribed by a strict lèse-majesté law that makes it a crime to defame, insult or threaten the king, queen or heir-apparent.
It is one particularly broad interpretation of the very law that Fuller notes in his story that led to the squelching of Tuesday’s paper (though it is available online). Over at The Guardian, Oliver Holmes explains:
There has been a rise in the number of lèse-majesté cases this year following a crackdown on dissent by the ruling junta, which seized power in a coup last year and promised to protect the crown.
Any Thai can bring a lèse-majesté case against someone. In April, a man was jailed for 30 years for insulting the monarchy on Facebook.
But the decision to block the story ultimately proves a few big points about the thin skin of the ruling junta, the controversy over the succession plans, and the over-delicate nature of the conversation about Thailand’s future. Responding to the event, the Times released a statement:
“Today's edition of the International New York Times was not printed in Thailand because it includes an article that our locally contracted printer deemed too sensitive too print,” the statement read. "This decision was made solely by the printer and is not endorsed by the International New York Times.”