It is probably correct to say that most of Thailand’s university teachers are not likely to oppose the military dictatorship. Some are huge supporters of royalist anti-democrats and Thai fascism. A brave few are prepared to stand up to the junta, its total control and its oppression.
As reported in the Bangkok Post, “60 academics from 16 universities … signed a petition against the action taken by police and soldiers who abruptly cut short a forum on ‘The Decline of Dictatorships in Foreign Countries‘ on Sept 18 at the Rangsit campus of Thammasat University.”
The scholars “asked” the junta to “show more respect for academic freedom,” describing the military dictatorship’s action as “highly unacceptable.” They were being polite to the military despots.
Deputy Prime Minister, Defense Minister, junta member and General Prawit Wongsuwan was not so polite in his response. He ordered them to “toe the line and stay within the law because the country is not yet back to normal and is still in need of reconciliation…”. By “reconciliation” he means toeing the line of the military junta.
As is usual when the military dictators do what they want, Prawit barked that “everything must be done according to the law. Since the NCPO wants peace and reconciliation, I am afraid we can’t allow a politically-related (seminar) to be held…”.
His message is the same as all dictators: do what we tell you to do or you are in trouble.
Update: The Asian Human Rights Commission has comments on this action and condemned the military dictatorship:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 22, 2014
A Statement from the Asian Human Rights Commission
THAILAND: Ongoing criminalization of thought and expression in Thailand
The Asian Human Rights Commission wishes to express grave concern about the arrest, interrogation, and harassment of four academics and three students during a public lecture on 17 September 2014 at Thammasat University in Bangkok. This is the latest in a series of actions by the authorities in the four months since the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) overturned the civilian government in a coup on 22 May 2014. These actions constrict the freedom of thought and expression of individual citizens while simultaneously contributing to the creation of a broad climate of fear in Thailand. Since the NCPO took power, the junta has demonstrated a profound lack of respect for basic human rights principles, despite their repeated claims otherwise.
On 17 September 2014, the League of Liberal Thammasat for Democracy (LLTD), a student organization, had organized a lecture in their Democracy Classroom series, titled “Democracy Classroom #2: Toppling Dictatorship in Other Countries.” The primary lecture was to be given by Nidhi Eoseewong, prominent senior Thai historian retired from Chiang Mai University and public intellectual, with commentary by Janjira Sombutpoonsiri (Faculty of Political Science, Thammasat University) and Chaowarit Chaowsangrat (Faculty of Arts, Thammasat University) and with Prajak Kongkirati (Faculty of Political Science, Thammasat University) as moderator. The LLTD had requested and been granted permission by the university to hold the event.
One day prior to the event, General Pallop Fuangfu, the Commander of the Control Division of the 2nd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment in Pathumthani province, where the Rangsit campus is located, sent a letter to the deputy rector of the university asking that he liaise with the LLTD to cancel the event. In the letter, General Pallop commented that, “…the aforementioned lecture may affect the resolution of the nation’s problems. In addition, at present, in order to protect against the increased arising of divisions or different political opinions and perspectives, every entity is cooperating in support of the reconciliation and harmony of people in the nation” (unofficial AHRC translation). In response, the university locked the door of the lecture room for which they had originally granted the students permission to use. The students then decided to use an open air space on the first floor of the building instead, and many people crowded into the space to listen.
Before Nidhi Eoseewong had completed even thirty minutes of his lecture, at approximately 5:30 pm, the authorities approached him directly and told him to stop speaking. Then, he, as well as Prajak Kongkirati, Janjira Sombutpoonsiri, Chaowarit Chaowsangrat, and three of the student organizers, were ordered to go to the local police station in Khlong Luang. The seven individuals were then interrogated during which time they were denied access to legal counsel. After several hours, at approximately 9:30 pm, all seven individuals were then released without charges being brought.
By not charging the seven individuals with the violation of any laws or orders, the authorities can still attempt to claim that this was not an arrest, but was rather a discussion to “create understanding,” as they have in cases of arbitrary detention following the coup. However, the lack of formal charges does not change the meaning of this incident as a form of intimidation and violation of the rights of the seven individuals to freedom of thought and expression. At the conclusion of the interrogation, the authorities announced that in the future, topics and outlines of the content of academic events needed to be submitted for approval beforehand.
The incident at Thammasat University is not an isolated one, but is rather part of a broader pattern of intervention by the junta in public events organized by students, academics and human rights activists. The intervention is carried out by the local military unit in a given area, which then cites the authority and wishes of the NCPO as the reason for their intervention. While the interventions have been described by the authorities as “requests for cooperation,” those who have made the requests have the power of guns, military courts, and executive power behind them. These are not “requests” but are rather a form of intimidation and harassment. The authorities have the sole power to decide who can speak when, where, and on what topic. If their wishes are not followed voluntarily, then they will act with the power they have under the gun, the military court (AHRC-OLT-006-2014), and executive power, to compel citizens to follow their wishes.
The Asian Human Rights Commission unequivocally condemns the coup and the ongoing criminalization of thought and speech by the National Council on Peace and Order. The AHRC calls on the NCPO in the strongest terms possible to cease intervening in academic and other public discussions and to cease harassing students, academics, and citizens who think differently. To think differently than the junta is not a crime. Finally, the AHRC encourages all concerned with human rights and justice to closely monitor the situation in Thailand.