Further updated: Authoritarian darkness

16 04 2021

Thailand’s royalist authoritarianism and the desire to “cleanse” the nation of anti-monarchists appears to have taken a significant turn as the regime targets an American academic it considers has fomented political activism in the northeast.

From New Mandala

Thai Enquirer, Bangkok Post, and Prachatai report that David Streckfuss, who worked for Khon Kaen University, CIEE: Council On International Educational Exchange, and with regional news outlet The Isaan Record, has had his work-permit with KKU revoked on 19 March, which means his tenure in Thailand is tenuous as his visa is also revoked.

It is reported that Streckfuss had “been with the university for the past 27 years before his work permit was terminated.”

Prachatai states that the “decision reportedly came after police visited the University President and Faculty Dean, after Streckfuss participated in a workshop which partly involved decentralization.”

Hathairat Phaholtap, the editor of the The Isaan Record, confirmed the work permit cancellation and stated that it came “after Streckfuss attended a workshop about the preservation and development of the local Isaan identity which was held at a Khon Kaen hotel on 12-14 February.”

The police reportedly told the university that this meant Streckfuss was “involve[d] with local politics…”.

According to the Bangkok Post, where Streckfuss has been an author, he has “published in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. He is also the author of Truth on Trial in Thailand: Defamation, Treason, and Lèse-Majesté, published by Routledge Press, in 2011… [and] has a PhD in Southeast Asian history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.” His recent academic work has been on censorship and self-censorship.

One of his roles since 1994 has been has been as director for CIEE Programs in Thailand, facilitating college students study abroad experiences in Thailand. In this he “works with the program’s administration and programs managers to oversee student health, safety, and welfare as well as all issues related to academics, services, projects, administration, and finance.”

Over the years, Streckfuss has spoken at various seminars, including with the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand. This action against a high-profile academic, and someone who might be described as a “friend” of Thailand, suggests either a bureaucratic miscalculation or, more likely, a further deepening of the regime’s repressive authoritarianism.

Update 1: A couple of reports in the media suggest that there’s some dissembling going on about this case. The Bangkok Post reports that Pol Maj Gen Kritsada Kanchana-alongkon, a commissioner at the Immigration Division 4 in Khon Kaen has gone all Sgt Schultz, saying: “The local immigration authorities didn’t know why the university terminated Mr Streckfuss’ contract…”.

Thai PBS reports multiple denials (one of which contradicts Pol Maj Gen Kritsada):

Immigration Police and Khon Kaen University have denied that the termination of the employment contract, work permit and visa of David Streckfuss are related to his political activism in Thailand.

Khon Kaen University’s International Affairs Division also denied allegations of police pressure, telling ThaiPBS World that the termination was due to his failure to fulfill his duty regarding student exchange programs.

Making matters worse for itself, KKU now states: “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he allegedly failed to arrange student exchange programs, leading to the contract termination.” So, they say that students couldn’t come, so Streckfuss must go….

Update 2: Khaosod states that the Khon Kaen Immigration Office has “deferred the decision to extend the work permit and visa…”. An official stated: “This has nothing to do with politics and David is not a prohibited person under the immigration act. Therefore, there should be no problem with his visa application process.”

KKU continues to maintain that there was no official pressure applied – Streckfuss says there was – and says it sacked him for circumstances created by the virus:

The longtime expat worked as the director of the exchange student program at Khon Kaen University for the past 27 years before he was given a one-month notice of termination in February for “not being able to do assigned work.” He believed the decision was politically charged, an allegation denied by his former employer.

“No police or any other state officials have met with the rector or the dean,” Khon Kaen University rector Charnchai Pangthongviriyakul said Saturday. “The faculty saw that there has been no progress in his work, so it decided to notify him of contract termination.”

Even if this was the case, it marks KKU as an uncaring employer, not averse to taking decisions that destroy lives.


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4 05 2021
Streckfuss stays | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] couple of weeks ago we posted on the case of David Streckfuss, who worked for 27 years at Khon Kaen University and with CIEE: […]

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