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In junta-ruled Thailand, reading has become one sign of civil disobedience

BANGKOK--In junta-ruled Thailand, the simple act of reading in public has become an act of resistance.

On Saturday evening 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 trundled past, the protesters sat down, pulled out book titles such as George Orwell's “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” a dystopian novel about life in a totalitarian surveillance state — and began to read.

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 gathering was an act of defiance — a quiet demonstration against the army's May 22 seizure of power and the repression that has accompanied it.

“People are angry about this coup, but they can't express it,” said a human rights activist who asked to be identified only by her nickname, Mook, for fear of being detained.

“So we were looking for an alternative way to resist, a way that is not confrontational,” she said. “And one of those ways is reading.”

Their defiance, if you can call it that, is found in the titles they chose. Among them: “Unarmed Insurrection,” “The Politics of Despotic Paternalism,” “The Power of Non-Violent Means.”

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.

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