BANGKOK — One of Bangkok’s largest booksellers has quietly pulled a book about the 2010 political unrest without explanation.
“Owners of the Map,” a new book by an Oxford fellow whose study of Bangkok’s motorcycle taxis was overtaken by the tumultuous events of 2010, was recently removed from the virtual shelves of Kinokuniya, a Japanese bookseller with several branches in Bangkok.
Author Claudio Sopranzetti, who lived in Thailand several years to conduct his research, said he noticed Wednesday that Kinokuniya’s listing for the book, which has yet to find domestic distribution in Thailand, had vanished from the bookseller’s website.
“Three days ago it was available on the Kinokuniya’s website for purchase and then it suddenly disappeared, you cannot find it anymore now,” Sopranzetti wrote in a message.
Kinokuniya has declined to discuss the book’s removal. There was no response to repeated inquiries made in numerous calls placed Thursday and Friday. One representative said the book was “out of stock” and another denied any knowledge of its removal. Both declined to give their names.
An employee working in one of Kinokuniya’s stores said the book had specifically been mentioned by title recently in regular communications about problematic works. The employee, who asked not to be named, said staff were told to tell customers that it was unavailable due to “inappropriate content.”
Someone in Kinokuniya’s management team on Friday also declined to explain the title’s removal and warned a reporter to “think carefully” before naming Kinokuniya as the bookstore, saying there could be consequences including retaliation against its employees. She also declined to give her name.
Sopranzetti said he understands that bookshops have the right to decide which products to sell but does not believe they should do so without explanation.
“They have all the right to decide they were not interested in the book in the first place, but they did post it on their website so this is not the case,” Sopranzetti said. “What is worrisome here is the attempt to make this go away silently, the quiet erasure of a book, and the clumsy denial of doing it.”
The manager of a Kinokuniya store in Japan said the company has a policy not to import certain books, such as those with obscene nudity or relating to religious cults.
“Sometimes staff members decide together which books should or should not be imported,” said Mikio Sunaki, manager of Kinokuniya’s Shibuya-ku branch in Tokyo. “But if it’s the law, we have to [follow] to protect ourselves.”
Sunaki said he had no information about decisions made by Kinokuniya in Thailand. Any censorship policy, he said, should be consistent with the laws of the nation.
The book is still available on the bookseller’s US website.
A surge of state censorship in the wake of the 2014 coup saw a commensurate willingness to self-censor in the private sector.
Two weeks after the coup in June 2014, the Associated Press reported that Kinokuniya had “pulled from its shelves political titles that could be deemed controversial.”
Thailand has a long list of censoring and banning books, mostly because they contain monarchy-related content. In 2013, Asia Books withdrew two titles, “Nai Nai” and “Dream the Impossible Dream,” due to “sensitive content.” In 2014, police banned “A Kingdom in Crisis,” by Scottish former journalist Andrew M. Marshall.
Thailand’s largest English-language bookseller Asia Books doesn’t have “Owners of the Map” in stock but offers it to customers on special order.
But Kinokuniya did not remove the book on any order, according to Thai authorities.
Orders to ban publications are issued by the intelligence wing of the police force known as the Special Branch Police. Deputy commander Chayapol Chatchaidet said his agency had not banned Sopranzetti’s work.
“It’s not in it,” Maj. Gen. Chayapol said, referring to their database of banned books after checking it for “Owners of the Map.”
More so, Chayapol said the agency only bans books or magazines after publication. It’s a bureaucratic process that involves review by an agency committee.
“Someone cannot unilaterally order a ban,” he added.
Sopranzetti said he does not believe there is much controversial content to his book, which he describes as “an academic analysis of migration, economy, and political struggle in the last ten years in Thailand, seen from the point of view of everyday people ….” but said he was “heartbroken” that it wouldn’t be available domestically.
“On a personal level, I spent the last decade learning Thai, studying the history of the country, doing interviews and dedicating myself to understand [sic] more Thailand and show the struggles, resilience, and strength of its people, seeing that fear – because of fear we are talking – will make the results impossible for people there to read it is heartbreaking.
As to the decision to remove the book, he can only speculate.
“I think [it] is no secret that the Thai monarchy has a different popular following now than it had twenty years ago,” he said. “A section of the book is about how this transformation happened and I think this is what worried them.”
Sopranzetti, who has been a contributor to Khaosod English, is a postdoctoral fellow at Oxford’s All Souls College. “Owners” is his second work based on experiences and observations of 2010 since “Red Journeys: Inside the Thai Red-Shirt Movement” was released in 2012.
Additional writing and reporting Todd Ruiz and Teeranai Charuvastra