hailand has banned indefinitely the sale and distribution here of the Asian Wall Street Journal because of an article last month that questioned whether the country's monarchy can survive the century.
The Thai police department, which announced the ban yesterday, said the Dec. 23 article violated Thai laws and public morality. Police Maj. Gen. Opas Rattanasin, commander of the Special Branch, was quoted as saying that the article specifically broke the Thai law banning lese majesty--slighting behavior toward a monarch.
The business newspaper's sole distributor in Thailand, the Indoprom Co., immediately halted circulation, although it was not formally ordered to until today. A company spokesman said the order would be appealed.
The decision to ban the newspaper, which is affiliated with the New York-based business daily, reflected extreme Thai sensitivity to any perceived criticism of the monarchy.
Considered a unifying and stabilizing factor in a country that has experienced a succession of military coups in the past decade, the highly popular constitutional monarchy traditionally has been above politics and reproach.
Last year, however, the royal family became closely identified with the current government, throwing its support behind the efforts of the prime minister, Gen. Prem Tinsulanond, to put down an April 1 coup attempt by younger officers. The attempt failed, largely because of the royal family's opposition.
Since last April's abortive coup, the political role of the royal family has been more openly discussed and considerable attention has been drawn to the especially sensitive issue of the succession to the throne of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the current ruling member of the Chakkri Dynasty, founded in 1782.
In unusually candid interviews during a visit to the United States last fall, the king's wife, Queen Sirikit, publicly criticized their 29-year-old son and heir to the throne, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn.
In an interview in November with CBS television, the queen said of the prince: "In his job as a career military man, he's doing quite well, but for the crown prince of Thailand, not so well, because I think that he does not give enough time to his people." She explained that while she thought performing royal duties was a full-time job, the prince "demands his weekends."
Two weeks earlier, the queen told the Dallas Times Herald that "the royal family belongs to the people of Thailand" and that if the people did not approve of her son's behavior, he would either have to change or resign his title.
"I have to be very frank. My son, the crown prince, is a little bit of a Don Juan," Sirikit said. "He is a good student, a good boy, but women find him interesting and he finds women even more interesting. So his family life is not so smooth." She insisted, however, that "he is very popular" with the Thai people.
The crown prince married in 1977 and has a three-year-old daughter. He holds the rank of lieutenant colonel commanding the Battalion of the King's Own Body Guards.
Although the queen reportedly expressed satisfaction with her U.S. interviews, the English-language Bangkok Post drew a sharp warning from the government after it reprinted the Dallas Times Herald article in full. Police told editors the paper would be shut down if it published such a story again.
However, authorities ignored a later article in the Hong Kong-based Far Eastern Economic Review that reported the queen's comments and raised the succession issue.
According to the Review, a weekly that covers Asian affairs, the effect of the queen's remarks was to fuel suggestions that the royal couple's third child, the immensely popular Princess Sirindhorn, should inherit the throne. The eldest child renounced her royal title when she married an American several years ago.
In an article last month, the Review noted that although heirs to the Thai throne have traditionally been males, "the Thai parliament in 1978 bestowed the dynastic title of maha Chakkri on the princess in a move widely interpreted as a public endorsement of her as a candidate for the succession."
The offending article in the Asian Wall Street Journal, a commentary by Michael Schmicker, also discussed the succession, questioning the crown prince's suitability.
Schmicker, a former U.N. official in Thailand and now a Honolulu-based, free-lance writer on Southeast Asian affairs, said the prince "appears to lack the intelligence, charisma and 'common touch' necessary to secure the affection of the Thai people for the Chakkri Dynasty and reportedly has only lukewarm support within the Thai military. His image as a Don Juan also has damaged his reputation."
Apparently considered more offensive, however, were Schmicker's allusions to sentiment against the monarchy. Titled "Can Thailand's Monarchy Survive This Century?" the article said:
"Thailand's strict lese majesty laws make it difficult to assess accurately the depth of any antiroyalist feeling in Thailand. Public criticism of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Queen Sirikit and other members of the royal family is forbidden. Even private criticism can be dangerous. But it is no secret that the monarchy has enemies."
Schmicker mentioned the Communist Party of Thailand and "idealistic student activists" who he said were "unwisely being forced to choose between their conscience and their king by misguided monarchists unable to distinguish a sincere cry for social change from an attack on the throne."
In response, the Thai Foreign Ministry said Schmicker did not understand the role of the Thai monarchy. Stressing that the king is a "constitutional monarch in a governmental system where there are many parties, power groups and factions" competing for power, the Thai statement said the "revered and popular monarch is inevitably made use of by some of the ill-intentioned groups."
A version of the statement was sent to the Asian Wall Street Journal as a letter to the editor and published Dec. 31.
There was no immediate indication where the decision to ban the paper originated but some government officials indicated misgivings about the move. While the Journal has a circulation of only about 1,500 copies a day in Thailand and about 25,000 in the region, it is considered influential and is respected among businessmen.
In a press briefing today, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said the banning order was "not final" and that the Journal can appeal it.
Police said the ban would not prevent the Journal's reporters from continuing to work here but that Schmicker was barred from entering Thailand.