U.S. citizen to serve jail sentence for translating an unauthorized biography of Thai King

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Michael Grant
Japan
Local time: 11:18
Japanese to English
Scratch another country off my "To visit" list... Dec 12, 2011

Ridiculous, reverence and respect cannot be legislated or commanded...it has to be earned!

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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 04:18
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
I hope nobody writes an unauthorised biography about me! Dec 13, 2011

This is not a question of respect or non-respect for royalty.

While I do not know the details, and a prison sentence does seem very harsh, I see it more as a question of the right to a private life. Even kings and people in public positions are entitled to decide who, if anyone, is going to write books about them and authorise what is or is not published.

Translating the king's public speeches would be quite another matter - these are presumably intended for publication.

I do not know what was in the biography, and I am a strong believer in freedom of speech, but there are also laws that protect the privacy of the individual, and these should be respected.

An unauthorised biography could be inaccurate, biassed or directly malicious, and I cannot say I am surprised that it is a punishable offence to write or translate one.


[Edited at 2011-12-13 13:10 GMT]


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Michael Grant
Japan
Local time: 11:18
Japanese to English
Only in a monarchy... Dec 14, 2011

Even kings and people in public positions are entitled to decide who, if anyone, is going to write books about them and authorise what is or is not published.


In a monarchy maybe, yes, but as a citizen living in a civilized democracy, hardly! If that were the case, then why not arrest every author who ever wrote anything about anyone?

If a student writes a paper about the King of Thailand, should he/she be arrested too??

If a blogger writes an article about the King and posts it on his/her blog, should he/she be arrested too???

At what point does it end???

The book was banned in Thailand even before it was published, for goodness sake!

The very arbitrariness of this reveals the true nature of the Thai government's reaction: It is censorship of the highest order, plain and simple. But then, I guess, that's Thailand for you...They live by their own rules...

From the article "The King and Yale University Press" on the Inside Higher Ed Web site about the book(http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2006/02/03/thai):

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."


Best quote from that article:

(An official at the Thai Embassy in Washington) 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."


'Nothing to criticize'...sure, and the emperor is wearing such very nice clothes too!...


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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:18
Hebrew to English
Scratch another country off my "To visit" list... Dec 14, 2011

Michael Grant wrote:

Ridiculous, reverence and respect cannot be legislated or commanded...it has to be earned!


When I was a kid, Thailand was one of those places I always imagined visiting. Now I'm a bit more worldly, have seen the seriously dodgyness of what goes on, not to mention the sex industry in Bangkok and elsewhere, there's no way in hell you could drag me there.

Not to mention - their language gives me a serious headache! (This has nothing to do with tones strangely, I find Mandarin quite beautiful - but Thai seems somewhat harder, more shrill).

Anyway, the story - it's quite ridiuclous. If writing unauthorized biographies was a crime here, the prisons would be bursting. Surely it's just a point of view, unauthorized biographies can often shed more truth on a person than a sanitized "authorized" one which has probably been censored to death (in agreement with the person it is written about no doubt).


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 04:18
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
I wonder... Dec 14, 2011

I wonder if he would have been guilty of insulting the king if he hadn't posted the translation on the web. A translator who translates something is independent of what he translates, and should not be held accountable for statements in the text... but... if the translator himself distributes the translation, or helps to promote it, then his status as an independent party ceases, and he assumes the same responsibility as a publisher or author would have had.

The fact that the translator is a US citizen is not really relevant. He was born in Thailand and as such he is a subject of the Thai king, regardless of citizenship. The fact that the US government may not accept the Thai king's authority over him doesn't mean that the Thai government shouldn't either.

In Thailand, you can get 20 years in jail for something that in the US would be the subject to a large fine and nothing more (e.g. committing libel). In the US, you can get 20 years in jail for things that would have resulted in a large fine in other countries (I'm thinking e.g. the inhumanely strict laws in the US on drug possession).

There is no need to cross either Thailand or the US off one's visit list -- the thing to remember is that different countries punish differently for different things.


[Edited at 2011-12-14 11:21 GMT]


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