Thai academics and students at risk

19 08 2017

Scholars at Risk is making a call “for letters, emails, and faxes respectfully urging Thai authorities to drop any charges against the accused arising out of the non-violent exercise of the rights to expression, association, or academic freedom; and to ensure that the case against them otherwise proceeds in a manner consistent with Thailand’s obligations under international law.”

SAR has a link that allows a letter be sent from its web page (highlighted above).

We are not sure about the need to be “respectful” to a barbaric military dictatorship or about the notion that fake charges should be tried at all, under any circumstances. The regime has shown no respect for its political obligations under any law, domestic or international but we think that people should express concern for these academics and students charged by the military regime.

SAR states:

Scholars at Risk (SAR) is concerned over the summons of two professors, two students, and one independent intellectual in connection with their attendance at the International Conference on Thai Studies.

SAR understands these five individuals attended the 13th International Conference on Thai Studies, held from 15 to 18 July 2017 at the Chiang Mai Convention Center in Chiang Mai. The International Conference on Thai Studies, which takes place every three years, is the largest global gathering of scholars from different disciplines who work on topics related to Thailand, including topics that touch on the country’s military rule. In connection with their attendance, these five individuals have been summoned to report to the Chang Phuak Police Station in Chiang Mai by August 21, 2017, and have been accused of violating Head of the NCPO Order No. 3/2558, which bans political gatherings of five or more persons. If convicted, they are subject to imprisonment of up to six months, a fine of up to 10,000 baht, or both.

The five individuals are: Chayan Vaddhanaphuti, Associate Professor and Director, Regional Center for Sustainable Development, Chiang Mai University, and Organizer, 13th International Conference on Thai Studies; Chaipong Samnieng, Ph.D. Candidate and Lecturer, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Chiang Mai University; Teeramon Buangam, M.A. Candidate, Faculty of Mass Communication, Chiang Mai University, and Editor, Prachaham News; Nontawat Machai, undergraduate student, Faculty of Mass Communication, Chiang Mai University; and Pakavadi Veerapaspong, independent writer and translator.

SAR calls for letters, emails, and faxes respectfully urging Thai authorities to drop any charges against the accused arising out of the non-violent exercise of the rights to expression, association, or academic freedom; and to ensure that the case against them otherwise proceeds in a manner consistent with Thailand’s obligations under international law.





Further updated: Protesting ICTS charges

18 08 2017

Sent by a reader:

Statement by participants at the 13th International Conference on Thai Studies on the Summons and accusations against fellow participants

We the undersigned express our alarm and dismay at the Summons issued by Col Suebsakul Buarawong, deputy commander of the 33rd Military Circle in Chiang Mai, to Dr Chayan Vaddhanaphuti, Pakawadee Veerapatpong, Chaipong Samnieng, Nontawat Machai, and Thiramon Bua-ngam. They are accused of violating the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) chief’s Order No.3/2015, Thailand’s military regime’s ban on political gatherings of five or more persons. Conviction on the charges issued against these five scholars carries a potential six months in prison.

The International Conference on Thai Studies is the main international scholarly forum for presentation and discussion of research on Thailand. It has been held every three years since 1981, hosted by universities in Thailand, Australia, China, India, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States. In July 2017 the conference was hosted by Chiang Mai University and achieved a record turnout of 1224 participants. The conference was a resounding success. It was marred only by the intimidating presence of uniformed and non-uniformed security personnel.

The intimidating presence of security personnel at ICTS13 and more generally at scholarly events is in direct contravention of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand is a party. It also contravenes the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Thailand has also signed, and which guarantees academic freedom.

We call on the military government of Thailand to:

  1. Immediately withdraw the summons and implied charges against Dr Chayan
    Vaddhanaphuti, Ms Pakawadee Veerapatpong, Mr Chaipong Samnieng, Mr
    Nontawat Machai, and Mr Thiramon Bua-ngam.
  2. Cease forthwith the intimidation of academics and students in their conduct of
    scholarly teaching, research, public discussion and debate, on- and off-campus.
  3. Cease the restriction of free and open discussion on pressing issues of concern to the
    wider Thai public, in line with Thailand’s international commitments.

Dated Friday 18 August
Signed by 291 ICTS13 participants

(ไทย version and Signatories to the Statement can be downloaded as PDFs.)

Update 1: A reader has sent us another statement by academics on the summoning of Thai academics and students from the ICTS by junta thugs. This one is an international effort. But to do what, we are unsure. It weakly expresses concern about the events and it is unclear who it is addressed to. Pussy-footing around the military dictatorship seems all academics are able to do, fearing for themselves and perhaps Thai colleagues.

Update 2: Another petition signed by more than 400 academics worldwide has been posted at New Mandala. It is a little stronger, expressing “alarm and dismay.”





Junta repression deepens II

16 08 2017

Human Rights Watch has issued a statement on the charging of five academics and attendees at the International Conference on Thai Studies.

We can only wonder if the foreign academics who attended will mobilize to protest this new low by the junta.

The keynote speakers should be the first and loudest voices: Katherine Bowie, Duncan McCargo, Thonchai Winichakul and Michael Herzfeld. After all, they made very particular and careful decisions to attend amid some calls for a boycott because the junta has been repressive of academics in Thailand (not their yellow-shirted friends and allies, of course).

Here’s the HRW statement:

Thai authorities should immediately drop charges against a prominent academic and four conference participants for violating the military junta’s ban on public assembly at a conference at Chiang Mai University in July 2017, Human Rights Watch said today. The International Conference on Thai Studies included discussions and other activities that the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta deemed critical of military rule.

Professor Chayan Vaddhanaphuti, who faces up to one year in prison if convicted, is scheduled to report to police in Chiang Mai province on August 23. Four conference attendees – Pakawadee Veerapatpong, Chaipong Samnieng, Nontawat Machai, and Thiramon Bua-ngam – have been charged for the same offense for holding posters saying “An academic forum is not a military barrack” to protest the military’s surveillance of participants during the July 15-18 conference. None are currently in custody.

“Government censorship and military surveillance have no place at an academic conference,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “By prosecuting a conference organizer and participants, the Thai junta is showing the world its utter contempt for academic freedom and other liberties.”

Since taking power after the May 2014 coup, Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha has asserted that the airing of differences in political opinions could undermine social stability. Thai authorities have frequently forced the cancellation of community meetings, academic panels, issue seminars, and public forums on political matters, and especially issues related to dissent towards NCPO policies or the state of human rights in Thailand.Frequently, these repressive interventions are based on the NCPO’s ban on public gatherings of more than five people, and orders outlawing public criticisms of any aspect of military rule. The junta views people who repeatedly express dissenting views and opinions, or show support for the deposed civilian government, as posing a threat to national security, and frequently arrests and prosecutes them under various laws.

Over the past three years, thousands of activists, politicians, journalists, and human rights defenders have been arrested and taken to military camps across Thailand for hostile interrogation aimed at stamping out dissident views and compelling a change in their political attitudes. Many of these cases took place in Chiang Mai province in northern Thailand, the hometown of former prime ministers Thaksin Shinawatra and Yingluck Shinawatra.

Most of those released from these interrogations, which the NCPO calls “attitude adjustment” programs, are forced to sign a written agreement that state they will cease making political comments, stop their involvement in political activities, or not undertake any actions to oppose military rule. Failure to comply with these written agreements can result in being detained again, or charged with the crime of disobeying the NCPO’s orders, which carries a sentence of up to two years in prison.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand is a party, protects the rights of individuals to freedom of opinion, expression, association, and assembly. The UN committee that oversees compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Thailand has also ratified, has advised governments that academic freedom, as an element of the right to education, includes: “the liberty of individuals to express freely opinions about the institution or system in which they work, to fulfill their functions without discrimination or fear of repression by the State or any other actor, to participate in professional or representative academic bodies, and to enjoy all the internationally recognized human rights applicable to other individuals in the same jurisdiction.”

“Academics worldwide should call for the trumped-up charges against Professor Chayan and the four conference attendees to be dropped immediately,” Adams said. “Thailand faces a dim future if speech is censored, academic criticism is punished, and political discussions are banned even inside a university.”





Repression and the nature of dictatorship

23 07 2017

About a week ago we posted on the statement by 176 of the 500 or so academics who attended the International Conference on Thai Studies. Later, we posted on how the military junta’s thugs could not ignore the “challenge” posed by the academics and their mild call for the return of freedom of expression.

According to a Bangkok Post editorial, the testy dictatorial regime can’t help itself in “responding”with negatives. It is its nature as a dictatorship.

That Army chief Chalermchai Sittisart has dismissed the academic call “comes as no surprise.” As the Post states: “His response perfectly reflects the military regime’s unreasonable fear and outrageous blockade of ‘different’ opinions.”

We have occasionally agreed that the junta is fearful of losing its power but we think the political repression is the nature of the dictatorship.

The “[m]any people [who] have been harassed, threatened, arrested and detained…” is the way a dictatorship deals with anyone considered “oppositional.”

The academics “asked” the junta to “give people back the freedom to express their opinions without fear of punishment or reprisal.”

It also asked they be granted full and free access to information and facts, and that prisoners of conscience — those jailed for their religious, political or other views — be released from jail or detention, among other issues.

None of this is going to happen under a military dictatorship.

Indeed, “at the Chiang Mai conference,” the junta had “[p]lainclothes officers record… who was in attendance and what they discussed.”

From Ugly Thailand

There can be no academic freedom and no freedom of speech. Indeed, the Post says, “Thai society has fallen under strict military control.”

We’d say it didn’t “fall” under military control. In fact, it was a planned military coup, planned by the current junta and coordinated with its tycoon, royalist and anti-democrat allies. Those groups don’t want a “democratic” politics that they are not sure that they can control.

Where the Post goes seriously wrong is in thinking that “democracy looms after the promised elections next year.” What looms is years of elite, royalist and military control of politics camouflaged as an electoral “democracy.”

After all, that was the very point of the coup in 2014.





Smacking down academics

19 07 2017

It took a while, but 176 academics attending the International Conference on Thai Studies eventually issued a statement regarding academic and other freedoms.

Some might have thought that Thailand’s military dictatorship might have ignored the rather mild statement. After all, the junta likes to say that it doesn’t repress speech even if that is a lie. Ignoring the academics might have been something of a PR “victory” for the junta.

But this underestimates the nature of the regime and its repressive apparatus.

Prachatai reports that junta minion and Deputy Governor of Chiang Mai Putthiphong Sirimat “has threatened three academics who allegedly put up banners against the junta that they will be summoned by the military.”

This junta toady has “submitted a letter to the Ministry of Interior reporting three academics who allegedly put up banners reading, ‘an academic forum is not a military barrack’, at the 13th International Conference on Thai Studies in Chiang Mai.”

The detestable junta posterior polisher “identified the three as Prajak Kongkirati, a political scientist from Thammasat University; Pakawadee Weerapaspong, an independent writer, activist, and translator; and Chaipong Samnieng, a lecturer of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Chiang Mai University.”

Acting as a junta snitch, Putthiphong declares that the three “used an academic forum to engage in anti-junta activities.”

It seems that the military bootlicker is angry that “the three have always been involved in movements against the junta through the Thai Academic Network for Civil Rights (TANCR).” So, like the junta itself, Putthiphong believes they should be punished” for not understanding their place in the junta’s hierarchy.





Academic boycott II

23 06 2016

At the end of May, we posted on a call by Professor Thongchai Winichakul, made at New Mandala, for academics and three sets of conference organizers to think carefully about the consequences of holding academic conferences in unfree Thailand under the military dictatorship.

ICTS13

There was an unsatisfactory response from the International Convention of Asian Scholars (ICAS), seemingly misunderstanding the situation in Thailand, although New Mandala’s new format seems to have removed the comments from the article.

Now New Mandala has published a response from Professor Chayan Vaddhanaphuti on behalf of the Organising Committee of the 13th International Conference on Thai Studies (ICTS13). This story has comments with it, currently featuring several comments by Andrew MacGregor Marshall.

For us, the critical point in Chayan’s post is that he affirms that any academically-qualified paper will be accepted, no matter what the topic, but adds this:

It goes without saying that presenters who wish to discuss issues of political sensitivity, such as the military coup, the monarchy or Article 112, will need to use their own judgement in presenting their arguments. The Organising Committee will neither interfere in topic selection, nor will the Committee or host institution (Chiang Mai University) be in a position to guarantee the safety of presenters whom the government at the time of the conference deems to have breached Thai laws.

Academics wanting to present on a range of political topics will need to consider the possibility that they could be arrested, detained or expelled from Thailand. We would also suggest that the Organizing Committee’s response is fraught with problems and unexplained issues. Think about the monarchy. If a paper is considered lese majeste by the regime, then those who accepted the paper for presentation and who provided a platform are also liable for prosecution under Article 112.





Academic boycott I

29 05 2016

Thongchai Winichakul has a post at New Mandala asking questions about three academic conferences to be held in Thailand in 2017 and using the word “boycott.” Clipped from his post, these are:

  • The 13th International Conference on Thai Studies (ICTS), hosted by Chiang Mai University, 15-18 July 2017 (deadlines for proposals: 30 August 2016 for panels, and 30 November 2016 for individual papers);
  • The 10th International Convention of Asian Scholars (ICAS) by the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), hosted by Chiang Mai University, 20-23 July 2017 (deadline for proposals: 10 October 2016);
  • The 2nd Conference for Southeast Asian Studies in Asia, by the Consortium for Southeast Asian Studies in Asia (SEASIA), hosted by Chulalongkorn University.

Thongchai Winichakul

Similar questions were raised in 2007 regarding the 2008 ICTS at Thammasat University. (Reading the responses to that post are enlightening of the darkness that haunts academia, both local and international.)

There is no academic freedom in Thailand. Calls have been made for academic freedom, but the military dictatorship brooks no interference in its reactionary work. The few activist students and academics are continually threatened by the junta and in the “suspect” areas of the country, the military actively police campuses. Several Thai academics have been forced to flee the country and yet their families are still harassed. The control of all universities in the country is effectively in the hands of royalist academics and administrators.

Given all of this evidence, it is reprehensible that the 10th International Convention of Asian Scholars (ICAS) and the 2nd Conference for Southeast Asian Studies in Asia should decide to hold their events in Thailand well after the 2014 military coup and when Thailand is the only military dictatorship in the world. After all, the debate that took place in the International Studies Association in 2014 and 2015 saw its ISA Global South Caucus Conference removed from Chulalongkorn University and Thailand (see here, here and here). Yes, sigh, they moved it to another state where academic freedom is restricted, but at least they were not meeting under a military dictatorship.

Academics are a broad and usually pretty divided and politically weak “group.” In many ways, the “group” is if representative of anything, reflecting a broader set of interests in society, often connecting with the powers-that-be.

Think of Thailand, where academics have tended to consider themselves a part of the bureaucratic section of the elite. Thai academics have a history of sucking up to and supporting military regimes and salivating over positions with governments that provide money and prestige. When General Prem Tinsulanonda was unelected prime minister, he surrounded himself with prominent professors keen to promote “semi-democracy,” military and monarchy. In more recent times, royalist academics have donned yellow shirts and supported all kinds of fascist ideas. Others serve the military dictatorship, including Panitan Wattanayagorn and Bowornsak Uwanno.

Academics are also lacking in political intestinal fortitude.

Think of Singapore, which has some of the world’s top-ranked universities, but where academics almost never challenge the status quo. If they do, they are quickly punished.

Nothing much came of the call to boycott ICTS in 2008. One of the commentators on the boycott opposed it, saying: “These days you have to be Swiss and drunk and in possession of a spray can to be charged with les [sic.] majeste. Most academics do not fit this profile, at least during working hours.” How wrong that was, then and since.

The opposition to the ICTS was “bought off” by special offers. As New Mandala’s Andrew Walker stated then:

At the time I was substantially in agreement with the call for a boycott. But subsequent events have persuaded me to attend. The key events have been the organisation of a series of panels in which the Thai monarchy will be subject to concerted academic scrutiny. As far as I know this public scrutiny is a first for Thailand (if not the world).

This is something like the call made by Thongchai in his New Mandala post. He suggests that “[a]nother approach to support our colleagues in Thailand is to make these events as vibrant, academically rigorous and critical as possible, to help push the boundaries of debate further.”

That was the “compromise” in 2008. Not much came of that brief and controlled moment of “freedom.” Academics are always suckers for such political maneuvers. Yes, there were some papers on the monarchy, but the academic environment has deteriorated remarkably since. The political environment in Thailand is far worse than in 2008.

Should there be a boycott? Absolutely. Will there be an organized boycott? No. Will some academics boycott. Yes. Some of this will be enforced as several academics, including some Thai academics living overseas, are effectively banned from Thailand and fear arrest if they attend a conference.