BANGKOK - Thai police have banned a British journalist's book about politics in Thailand for "defaming" the monarchy, an official said Thursday, in a country with one of the world's strictest lese majeste laws.
The sale and distribution of "A Kingdom in Crisis" by freelance journalist and author Andrew MacGregor Marshall, formerly based in Bangkok, has been banned in Thailand a month after it was published by London-based Zed Books.
"The content insults, defames and threatens Thailand's monarchy," said national police chief Somyot Poompanmoung in a statement. "The book is a danger to national security and peaceful and orderly society."
The statement added that anyone found breaching the ban imposed on Tuesday could face up to three years in jail, a fine of 60,000 baht (US$1,800) and destruction of the book.
Thailand's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 86, is protected by tough royal defamation rules under which anyone convicted of insulting the king, queen, heir or regent faces up to 15 years in prison on each count.
Marshall's book, which explores Thailand's turbulent political landscape including the taboo issue of royal succession, has been banned under the printing act rather than lese majeste legislation - seemingly widening the legal net to prevent debate about the monarchy.
Critics say the law, section 112 of the Thai criminal code, as well as the 2007 Computer Crimes Act, stifles free speech and is used to silence political opponents.
Since grabbing power in May, junta leader and now premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha has repeatedly vowed to crack down on anyone who insults the monarchy.
Some experts believe that a struggle is unfolding to decide who will run Thailand when the more than six-decade reign of the ailing king, currently in hospital after a gallbladder operation, eventually ends.
Discussion on succession is restricted in Thailand under the lese majeste law and authorities have previously banned other books deemed critical of the royals including an unauthorised biography of the king, "The King Never Smiles", by Paul Handley.
Phnom Penh-based Marshall told AFP it was "ridiculous" that Thailand was banning a book in the 21st Century.
"Restrictions on freedom of speech in Thailand can only worsen the country's political conflict. What Thailand needs is debate and discussion, not censorship and repression," he said.
The May coup was the latest chapter in a long-running political conflict that broadly pits a Bangkok-based middle class and royalist elite, backed by parts of the military and judiciary, against rural and working-class voters loyal to ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thaksin, the older brother of ousted prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, was toppled in a previous coup in 2006 and lives in self-exile to avoid prison for a corruption conviction. Parties led by or allied to the telecoms magnate-turned politician have won every Thai election since 2001.
In September, rights group Amnesty International said there had been an "unprecedented" number of people charged with insulting the monarchy since the coup, echoing concerns raised by the United Nations.
Last week a 24-year-old student was jailed for two-and-a-half years for defaming the monarchy, after pleading guilty to posting an insulting Facebook message under a pseudonym.
Asia Books, the largest English-language bookstore chain in Thailand, said it had not imported any copies of Marshall's book and would not be taking any orders for the publication.
The police order about the ban did not mention any bars on electronic versions of the book.