According to The Associated Press, in today's junta-ruled Thailand, the simple act of reading in public has become an act of resistance.
On Saturday evening (May 31) in Bangkok, a week and a half after the army seized power in a coup, about a dozen people gathered in the middle of a busy, elevated walkway connecting several of the capital's most luxurious shopping malls.
As pedestrians trudged by, the protesters sat down, pulled out book titles such as George Orwell's "1984," a dystopian novel about life in a totalitarian surveillance state — and began to read from pages word-for-word.
In a country where the army has vowed to crack down on anti-coup protesters demanding elections and a return to civilian rule, in a place where you can be detained for simply holding something that says "Peace Please" in the wrong part of town, the small protest was a major act of defiance — a quiet demonstration against the army's May 22 seizure of power and the repression that has accompanied it.
COMMENT: The coup, Thailand's second in eight years, deposed an elected government that had insisted for months that the nation's fragile democracy was under attack from protesters, the courts and, finally, the army.
The junta's leader says the military had to intervene to restore order after half a year of debilitating protests that had crippled the government and triggered sporadic violence that killed 28 people and injured more than 800.
At least fourteen partisan TV networks have been shut down along with nearly 3,000 unlicensed community radio stations. Independent international TV channels such as CNN and BBC have been blocked along with more than 300 Web pages, including New York-based Human Rights Watch's Thailand page.
Journalists and academics have been summoned by the army. Activists have fled the country.
On Friday, the group was supposed to gather on another walkway where they had conducted a reading a day earlier. But when troops showed up, they called it off.
Some people have begun using encrypted chat apps on their smartphones, for fear of being monitored. And at least one major bookstore in Bangkok, Kinokuniya, has pulled from its shelves political titles that could be deemed controversial.
So far, Orwell's "1984" in which authorities operating under the aegis of "Big Brother" fit homes with cameras to monitor the intimate details of people's personal lives, is not among them.