Royalists and censorship

13 04 2021

One of the traits of royalism in Thailand is the way in which all manner of royalists, from officials to the mad  monarchists, seek to destroy those they see as opponents.

About a month ago we mentioned the “case” being mounted by academic royalists to censor the work of historian Nattaphol Chai­ching, a campaign that had been waged by yellow shirts since 2018. That royalist assault has been recently paired with a ridiculous (except in royalist Thailand) defamation case by minor royal, MR Priyanandana Rangsit, against Nattaphol and publisher Fah Diew Kan (Same Sky), seeking to protect the honor of a long dead relative.

We would have hoped that such a malicious set of actions by mad monarchists would have faded away. It hasn’t, with a report at University World News suggesting that the royalist stronghold at Chulalongkorn University is seriously pursuing the claims against Nattaphol.Nattapoll

The royalists clearly see Nattaphol’s book’s and their “popularity and influence as a threat…”. As a result, they”have targeted the author, calling for his PhD to be revoked.” The royalist witch hunt is led by yellow-shirted political “philosopher” Chaiyan Chaiyaporn at Chulalongkorn University.

The university, “who owns the copyright to the PhD thesis, set up an investigation committee in February ostensibly to review its academic integrity,” after earlier “effectively bann[ing] the thesis by barring public access to it, claiming at the time that it contained errors based on some pieces of evidence used.” As far as we can tell, the “errors” are one mis-attribution to a newspaper article.

With the “investigation” now proceeding, mostly in secret, the university could revoke Nattaphol’s degree or take “other disciplinary action under research misconduct rules.”

The report cites Ek Patarathanakul, assistant to the president for corporate communications at Chulalongkorn University, and an interview with BBC Thai on 26 March where Ek claimed “Chulalongkorn University would uphold the ‘academic perspective’ in examining the issue.” He added: “we have to use universal principles [of academic integrity] in reviewing this case…”.

As we know, in Thailand, “principles” and standards are easily manipulated, and the university’s political track record is royalist and shaky (for an example, see our series of articles Pathetic royalist “university” in 2017 that begins here).





Royalist academic unfreedom

19 03 2021

Dr Nattapol with his books. The photo, supplied by Same Sky Books, is clipped from New Mandala

Just over a week ago, PPT post Clown royalists and the monarchist laundry where we began with a story from the Bangkok Post about minor royal, MR Priyanandana Rangsit, “taking legal action and seeking damages of 50 million baht from writer Nattapol Chai­ching and publisher Fah Diew Kan (Same Sky) for alleged slander.”

That story is taken up at New Mandala, where Thongchai Winichakul and Tyrell Haberkorn detail the silliness and nastiness associated with this case. It particularly highlights the role of royalist troll Chaiyan Chaiyaporn, who operates like a fascist cheerleader, seeking to further diminish the already severely curtailed academic freedom (and pretty much every other freedom) in Thailand.

We urge readers to consider the New Mandala piece in its entirety.





Neo-traditionalism and fascists

18 03 2021

Prachatai has a couple of stories that are about a theme – political repression. In our view, they also appoint to the entrenchment of neo-traditionalist, royalist, fascism.

The first report is about complaints made by the so-called People’s Network to Protect the Monarchy to Anek Laothamatas, who seems to spend some time as Minister of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation. They demanded that the former communist now mad royalist and failed politician investigate the lecturers who have used their positions to stand bail for arrested protesters. The fascist Network “claims that their bail requests for Panusaya Sitthijirawattanakul, Parit Chiwarak and Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, students at Thammasat and Mahidol universities, constitute behaviour that infringes upon the monarchy.”

Clipped from Prachatai
The Network submitting a petition to the MHESI representatives, Duangrit Benjathikul Chairungruang and Jak Punchoopet (Source: Facebook/ Center for People Protecting the Monarchy).

Immediately, the ministry sprang into action: “Jak Punchoopet, Advisor to the Minister … said … the Ministry is preparing to summon deans and chancellors of the universities of 8 lecturers who offered bail to 3 student activists detained while awaiting trial for royal defamation and other charges.” Jak previously participated in People’s Democratic Reform Committee efforts to foment a coup against an elected government.

The Network claimed it is “unethical for teachers as they are protecting students who have clearly and publicly defamed and infringed upon the King, Queen and the Chakri dynasty, which the Network has denounced.”

Jak quoted Minister Anek as stating that “academic freedom must not infringe on the … monarchy.”

There’s not much academic freedom in Thailand anyway, with the 2020 Academic Freedom Index grading Thailand as an E, “the lowest grade, with a score of 0.13 out of a maximum of 1.  Other countries with and E grade include China, North Korea, Cuba, Lao, Iran, Rwanda, and South Sudan.”

Preventing academics standing bail would be a major change to previous and longstanding practice.

Of course, neither the fascists of the Network nor the dolts at the Ministry ever pause to think that none of these political prisoners have yet been found guilty. In any case, none were allowed bail.

An equally concerning report is about constant harassment of independent media:

The Isaan Record, an online media organization based in Khon Kaen Province, is under surveillance by police officers. This is not the first time, and it occurs after they report on monarchy reform and anti-dictatorship activities which other media find distasteful.

The effort to silence The Isaan Record is clear and follows a pattern:

On 10 March, Hathairat Phaholtap, the Isaan Record editor, told Prachatai English that police officers came to their office 4 times in one day. She was informed by vendors close to the office that police had asked them about the agency. The police did not approach staff directly.

This took place after the agency reported on an activity organized on 8 March by Femliberate, a feminist activist group, who shrouded the statue of Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat with women’s sarongs with a banner reading “Justice died 8 March 2021,” a symbolic action against the oppression of women and the court decision to keep in detention Parit Chiwarak, Panusaya Sitthijirawattanakul and Panupong Jadnok, 3 leading pro-democracy activists.

Police intimidation sometimes leads to arrests but can also lead to attacks by royalist thugs – more often than not these are police and military men in plainclothes. Such attacks are never investigated.

Unsurprisingly, these royalist, fascist interventions are coordinated. Prachatai reports:

… Manager Online for the northeast region reported news with the headline “Don’t stand for it! Khon Kaen people love the institution [of the monarchy]. Attack KKU [Khon Kaen University], ask its position on whether they want the monarchy or not after allowing gangs who want to abolish the monarchy to hang out there,”.

The news item reports that a pro-monarchy group blames the Progressive Movement, from the now-dissolved Future Forward Party, for being the mastermind behind the student movement in Khon Kaen in the past year. They also questioned Khon Kaen University for letting public figures who spoke about democracy and monarchy reform give lectures to the students.

You see the link between Manager Online and the People’s Network to Protect the Monarchy. When fascism takes hold, the country usually falls into a deep and dark abyss.





Academic freedom

21 05 2020

We are used to seeing rankings. A relatively new one that PPT recently came across, thanks to a post at New Mandala, that led us here, and then to a ranking on academic freedom. On that last post, we noted Thailand’s abysmal performance.

PPT decided to get to work on the data made available by the efforts of researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) and the V-Dem Institute, the Scholars at Risk Network, and the Global Public Policy Institute. The full report can be downloaded as a PDF. Some might quibble about the ranking and what goes into it, but it is worth thinking about why Thailand does so badly. The result is the graph below:

We were selective, including Thailand’s ASEAN partners, some other countries in the Asian region and Germany as an example of a highly-ranked country and Taiwan and South Korea as highly-ranked countries in the region.

It is obvious that Thailand does very badly indeed, ranking well below all of its ASEAN partners except Laos (we couldn’t locate a score for Cambodia). Thailand even ranks below Vietnam, usually considered a pretty authoritarian state, but where public policy on education is taken quite a lot more seriously than in Thailand. Thailand even ranks behind Saudi Arabia, a despotic monarchy.

Thailand’s low score is no surprise. Thailand’s academics have long suffered state repression, censorship and academics have been prone to self-censorship. And, not a few academics have considered themselves servants of the rich and powerful and promoters of conservative royalism. Most of this latter type are seldom true academics, conducting fearless research and publishing high-quality papers. Rather, they crave lucrative advisory posts and proximity to power. Think of the execrable Panitan Wattanayagorn who grasps his academic position in a claw-like grip while being the servant of murderous generals.





Academics unsafe

18 02 2019

PPT has posted several times on academic freedom in Thailand, or rather the lack of it, and academic conferences being held in Thailand.

The next major conference we know of is the AAS-in-ASIA conference, to be held 1-4 July, 2019 in Bangkok. Despite earlier restrictions and censorship associated with an earlier AAS-in-ASIA in India, the AAS decided to hold an event in Thailand, and promoting the conference with an array of Orientalist memes about tourism, culture and food..

The claimed reasons for going to Bangkok were stated by the AAS:

Although Thais remain hopeful that their country will have elections (current news reports are suggesting the possibility of early 2019), Thailand currently is ruled by a military junta. Nonetheless, our host partners affirm that holding the AAS-in-Asia conference in Thailand provides support for free academic inquiry in their country. In this spirit, the AAS Board of Directors voted in October 2017 to hold the 2019 AAS-in-Asia conference in partnership with this coalition of Thai universities.

The partners are Chiang Mai, Chulalongkorn, Kasetsart, and Mahidol universities, none of which have recently been at the forefront of the promotion of academic freedom. Several academics, including from Thammasat and Chulalongkorn have had to flee Thailand for fear of arrest for their academic writings that led to repression and lese majeste charges. Others have been threatened by university administrations, assaulted on campus and attacked by the military junta.

In this context, it seems more than appropriate to raise two issues that demand that the AAS Board of Directors reconsider their choice of venue.

First, the AAS has an Anti-Harassment Policy for its upcoming Colorado Annual Conference:

The Association for Asian Studies strives to provide a safe and welcoming conference environment free from bias and intimidation for all participants. The Association has a zero-tolerance policy toward discrimination and all forms of harassment, including but not limited to sexual harassment. No form of discriminatory or harassing conduct by or towards any employee, member, vendor, or other person in our workplace or at AAS conferences or workshops will be tolerated. The Association is committed to enforcing its policy at all levels within the Association. Anyone who engages in prohibited discrimination or harassment will be subject to discipline, up to and including expulsion from the conference site and revocation of membership in the association.  Instances of harassment should be brought to the attention of the AAS Executive Director, who will then consult with the executive officers regarding a course of action.

PPT’s view is that if this policy is to be applied in Thailand, then the Board cannot guarantee “a safe and welcoming conference environment free from bias and intimidation for all participants” and nor can its participating organizations. We know this from the outcome of the International Conference on Thai Studies in Chiang Mai in 2017.

Which leads directly to our second point. Prachatai reports on the harassment of foreign academics that has been continuing since that ICTS conference, including of members of the AAS.

It reports that:

Andrew Johnson, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University, was temporarily detained by the Thai Immigration Police upon leaving Thailand on 10 February 2019.

As it turns out, Johnson is just the first to make this public. Prachatai has of several who have been detained in this way:

Since the military coup in 2014, the military government has implemented several measures to restrict freedom of expression in order to suppress criticism of their rule, which has also affected academic freedom. Other researchers also reported being similarly kept under surveillance and questioned.

It cites the case of Rosenun Chesof of the University of Malaya, ” detained by the Immigration Police 10 times. The first was on 30 August 2018…”. It also mentions Professor Philip Hirsch, “a visiting scholar at Chiang Mai University, has been questioned on what he was doing in Thailand, and Chiang Mai University had to issue him a letter of reference.”

PPT has contacted several scholars over several years about their experiences. We know of one scholar who was refused entry to Thailand and another senior scholar who was semi-officially warned in 2010, by the Thai Embassy in Washington to desist campaigning about lese majeste or face “problems” in Thailand.

We have also been informed that at least 8-9 scholars have experienced harassment when entering or leaving Thailand.

Prachatai states that:

Johnson subsequently tweeted that he was told by the police that they had a list of about thirty researchers “on society, culture, politics” and that they wanted information on where he had been and who he had talked to.

Of course, the harassment of Thailand-based scholars has been far more sustained.

All of this means that the AAS Board will very likely place itself in a situation where it will be in breach of its own Anti-Harassment Policy.





Academics, posterior polishing and freedom

11 01 2019

Readers might recall a brief flurry of posts about the lackadaisical discussion of academic freedom in Thailand from an Australian-based historian. We complained that the events that saw several people associated with a conference in Chiang Mai being tried (since dropped) and with the situation of academics in Thailand could not be viewed as just another example of the ordinariness of academic (non/un)freedom in Thailand or that surveillance of academics is something to be viewed as somehow normalized.

In a recent article at East Asia Forum, “The fate of academic freedom in Thailand,” academic Tyrell Haberkorn takes a more serious look at the case of those who were charged in Chiang Mai and the rule of law in Thailand. Well worth a look.

For examples of how unfreedom, repression and military dictatorship has cowed academics and commentators in Thailand, read just about anything written in the past couple of weeks about the now undated “election.” So intense has been the junta’s efforts to crush any semblance of criticism of the monarch and monarchy, that when it is obvious that the king is land-grabbing, including turfing out parliament and leaving it homeless, and that it is he who has caused the current “election” imbroglio, what is seen from commentators and academics? Nothing. Deafening silence. And when the silence is broken it is to posterior polish.

Take as an example a recent op-ed for the Bangkok Post. Thitinan Pongsudhirak complains about the election delay, but blames no one. He pussyfoots about, claiming that 24 February was not the day: “An election date that many thought would be Feb 24 has now gone into limbo without clarity.” He’s afraid to say that this was the day the junta chose and worked and cheated and rigged towards, but that it is now off the table because there’s no royal decree. Stating the facts might be dangerous. Perhaps, but his piece is royalist and new reignist, declaring the coronation and the junta’s rigged election as linked and glorious. Buffing posteriors is easier, safer and likely to be rewarding. Freedom, though, is crushed, aided and abetted by complicit royalist “academics.”





Academics in court III

25 12 2018

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights report that the court in Chiang Mai has dismissed the ludicrous case against five academics, students and others who attended the International Conference on Thai Studies.

That’s good news.

The court’s dismissal stated that The Dictator’s recent Order No. 22/2561 meant that the charges brought against the five no longer constitutes an offense.

At the same time, the Court declared that the prosecution of similar cases executed under junta Announcements and Orders were not affected by this decision.

We at PPT are not lawyers or legal experts, but this court’s decision strikes us as bizarre. Its “reasoning” is entirely opaque. How this particular case can be declared to no longer exist because of Order No. 22/2561, why does this legal logic not apply to other, similar cases? If anyone knows, be in touch with us.

At present, we can only think that the decision by the court is a way to avoid an embarrassing case around the time of an “election.”





Academics in court II

18 12 2018

As it turns out, the five academics and students we said had just spent five days being tried by the military junta, ended up in a truncated appearance.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights reports that hearings scheduled for 6-7 and 12-14 December were suspended on the 12th.

These were witness hearings in the case of those charged with violating The Dictator’s No. 3/2558 regarding the prohibition of political assembly of five or more persons. This is the case where academics at the International Conference on Thai Studies where they meekly stated that “An Academic Conference is Not a Military Barracks” in July 2017.

In a long post, TLHR reports that the prosecutors asked for the court to rule on whether the case could continue after the military junta lifted its ban on political meetings – not that those charged had done this. “The court then issued an order to suspend the witness hearings scheduled for 12-14 December and set a meeting for all parties in the case to hear the ruling at 9 am on 25 December.”

Before the case was adjourned, each of the accused were allowed to enter their statements into the court record, declaring their innocence and pointing to the junta’s denial of academic freedom.

The TLHR post includes all statements. They should be read.





Academics in court I

17 12 2018

Five academics and students have just spent five days being tried by the military junta.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights reports that on 6-7 and 12-14 December, witness hearings were held in the case of those charged with violating The Dictator’s No. 3/2558 regarding the prohibition of political assembly of five or more persons. This is the case where academics at the International Conference on Thai Studies where they meekly stated that “An Academic Conference is Not a Military Barracks” in July 2017.

As we understand it, the five did not appear at the conference together.

The case is being heard in the Chiang Mai district court.

The brief and quiet holding of small printed pages was a response to the junta sending spies to record aspects of the conference. These junta thugs did not register for the conference and nor did they seek permission for their intrusive and anti-constitutional actions. But, then, the junta is lawless in the sense that laws apply to others but not to their slugs.

They are reported to have “interrupted the conference through speaking during presentations and making other loud sounds.”

The case has attracted interest for demonstrating that the there is no freedom of expression or academic freedom in the junta’s Thailand.

TLHR shared the details of the defendants, which we reproduce here:

Dr. Chayan Vaddhanaphuti, age 75, has served for over ten years as the director of the Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development and the head of the Center for Ethnic Studies and Development, both in the Faculty of Social Sciences at Chiang Mai University (CMU).

Dr. Chayan completed his BA in the Faculty of Arts at Chulalongkorn University and his MA and PhD in Anthropology at Stanford University.  He is also the recipient of an honorary doctorate in Social Anthropology from Gothenburg University (Sweden) in 2004.

Dr. Chayan has been a university professor for over 33 years, from 1985 until the present. His students, from BA to PhD level, include Thai and international students. He has produced scholarly work about ethnicity in northern Thailand, local wisdom, border studies, and refugees and displaced persons.

In addition, Dr. Chayan has worked with marginalized people and communities to access land and forest rights, community resource rights, and indigenous rights, as well as the struggle for democracy in Burma. He has worked to disseminate information about these issues by joining public debates, leading training workshops, and working with local communities to find solutions.

With the rise of the ASEAN Economic Community, Dr. Chayan has supported academic work in ASEAN Studies and surveying development in the Mekhong River subregion as part of his role as the director of the ASEAN Studies Center at CMU.

CMU was the host of ICTS in 2017, which was the 13th time this conference has been held. Dr. Chayan was the vice chair of the organizing committee and the chair of the academic subcommittee. He did not participate in holding up the “An Academic Conference is Not a Military Barracks” sign.  His only action was to examine the sign and decide that it was not a problem and therefore did not have to be removed. For this, he was targeted for prosecution by the military.

Pakavadi Veerapaspong, age 53, has been an independent translator and writer for many decades. Her academic background is in philosophy; she holds a BA in philosophy from Thammasat University and an MA in philosophy from Chulalongkorn University. Her interest in reading and translation dates from her time as a student.

Pakavadi has translated a number of significant works of literature. This includes The Name of the Rose, the historical mystery novel by the Italian writer Umberto Eco; The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Czech writer Milan Kundera; the quartet of novels by Indonesian dissident and writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer; and the Philip Marlowe mystery novels by American writer Raymond Chandler.

In addition, Pakavadi also translates academic work, and her published translations include writing by American linguist Noam Chomsky; Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawken, a collection of essays about social and economic change;  and The Great Transformation, by Karl Polyanyi, about the industrial revolution in Europe. She was also part of the collective translation of Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson, the scholar of Southeast Asian Studies and nationalism.

Pakavadi is compelled by social and revolutionary movements and has translated books and written articles about social movements in Latin America and the West.

Pakavadi is also a magazine columnist and has regularly joined public debates on social and political matters in recent years.  She sometimes joins protests as a participant or an observer.

At ICTS, Pakavadi was a speaker on a panel about Benedict Anderson’s life and work.

Nontawat Machai, age 22, is a fourth-year drama student in the Faculty of Mass Communication at CMU.

His hometown is Phatthalung province and he graduated from Satriphatthalung School. His interest is in writing and performing in plays; he is a member of Lanyim Creative Group, a group of youth activists who perform plays, show films and organize seminars about social problems.

Nonthawat directed a play called “Swallow” in the annual theatre festival of the Faculty of Mass Communication at CMU in 2015. He has performed in many plays in the Faculty as well, including “I merely wish to go outside” (2015) and “Fly first” (2016). He also acted in the short film “Onli(n)e Society” (2016) and in the dialogue theatre of Lanyim Creative Group in collaboration with Makham Pom Theatre (2017).

Nonthawat was a member of the Chiang Mai University Student Assembly in 2015. He was awarded the National Youth Excellence Award in the field of communication for protection and resolution of social problems in 2014 and was the first runner-up for an award for creative communication and environmental innovation from the United States Agency for International Development.

At ICTS, Nonthawat was a student volunteer in the conference directorate. He was responsible for taking photographs and video at the conference and aiding with the opening and closing ceremonies.

Chaipong Samnieng, age 36, is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology in the Faculty of Social Sciences at CMU.

Chaipong is from Phrae province. He completed a BA in Social Studies in the Faculty of Education and an MA in the Department of History in the Faculty of Humanities at CMU.

Chaipong was previously a lecturer at Naresuan University in Phayao province. He then moved to CMU, first to work in the Public Policy Institute, and then to begin his doctoral studies, which continue at present. He is also a special lecturer for the course “Northern Society and Politics” in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at CMU.

Chaipong is interested in Lanna (northern Thai) history, local governance and public policy. His publication, both as a sole researcher and as a member of a research team, are numerous. These include, for example, Dynamics and Recognition of the History of Phrae, 1902-2006, Development of Capital Groups and Business Networks in Northern Thailand, 1903-Present, and as part of a research project to study public policy to advance decentralization of local governance, etc.

Chaipong also writes for print journals and online media about Lanna history, politics and culture.

At ICTS, Chaipong presented a research paper about conflict and confusion in Lanna history. He was also the coordinator of a series of panels about Lanna history, which was one of the highlights of the conference.

Teeramon Buangam, age 39, is an MA student in the Faculty of Mass Communication at CMU.

Teeramon is from Chiang Mai province. He completed a BA in the Faculty of Medical Technology at CMU, and then completed a BA with a newspaper major in the Department of Mass Communication in the Faculty of Humanities at CMU.

He has worked at Prachatham newspaper since 2005 and has served as editor since 2012. Prachatham is a northern media outlet that reports on civil society movements, community rights, and northern society.

At present, Teeramon is a special lecturer in alternative media and advanced reporting in the Faculty of Mass Communication at CMU and a special lecturer at Mae Jo University as well.

Previously, Teeramon was a researcher in a project to survey the landscape and direction of media convergence and a project to survey the resources and readiness for reporting of community radio. At present he is interested in data journalism and is writing his MA thesis about public communication by independent media in this field.

At ICTS, Teeramon presented a paper about data-driven journalism. He simply walked by and took a photograph with the “An Academic Conference is Not a Military Barracks.” This led to him being accused of violating the law and becoming a defendant.





Limiting academic freedom II

9 09 2018

A couple of weeks ago, PPT posted on the lackadaisical discussion of academic freedom in Thailand from an Australian-based historian. That blasé account was purportedly about the charging of the principal organizer and several others involved with the 13th International Conference on Thai Studies held at Chiang Mai University in 2017.

Interestingly, as a reader informs us, the Association for Asian Studies has now announced in an email to members that its next AAS-in-Asia conference will be held in Bangkok on July 1-4, 2019. In part, the announcement says:

The AAS-in Asia conferences offer opportunities for Asia-based scholars to interact with each other and their international colleagues. AAS is partnering with a five-university coalition of organizers led by Thammasat University; the other members of the coalition are Chiang Mai, Chulalongkorn, Kasetsart, and Mahidol Universities. In terms of travel, tourism, and obtaining necessary visa documents, Bangkok is known as an easily accessible hub in Southeast Asia.

It then goes on to discuss controversy.

At its most recent AAS-in-Asia, held in Delhi, India, before the event began it became clear that there were major issues of academic freedom, with the President of the AAS writing to members stating that the:

Government of India, while granting political clearance to the conference (a requirement under Indian law), has refused to issue conference visas to citizens of Pakistan or even to persons of Pakistani origin. The officers of the AAS (that means, currently, Katherine Bowie, Past President; Laurel Kendall, Past Past President; Prasenjit Duara, Vice President; and me, President) and all the members of the AAS Board of Directors abhor the exclusion of Pakistani scholars from the conference.

Abhorred, but went ahead, stating: “we believe our course of action is the right one under the circumstances, despite the heated objections that it has generated.”

Remarkably, the AAS has now chosen Thailand, ruled by a military junta. This time it is explained that the AAS:

is encountering challenges in determining venues for international academic conferences, ranging from finding host institutions with faculty and staff willing to take on the significant workload involved in organizing a conference with some 1,000 attendees, to facing the risk of becoming ensnared in the politics of governments in the countries in which the host institutions are located. The U.S. government itself has issued new regulations regarding visa applications from citizens of Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen. Although Thais remain hopeful that their country will have elections (current news reports are suggesting the possibility of early 2019), Thailand currently is ruled by a military junta. Nonetheless, our host partners affirm that holding the AAS-in-Asia conference in Thailand provides support for free academic inquiry in their country. In this spirit, the AAS Board of Directors voted in October 2017 to hold the 2019 AAS-in-Asia conference in partnership with this coalition of Thai universities.

The partners are Chiang Mai, Chulalongkorn, Kasetsart, and Mahidol Universities, none of which have recently been at the forefront of the promotion of academic freedom. To take one example, Chulalongkorn has several times prevented students from protesting (here and here). Several academics, including from Thammasat and Chulalongkorn have had to flee Thailand for fear of arrest for their academic writings that caused lese majeste charges. Others have been threatened by university administrations, assaulted on campus and attacked by the military.

That there may be a rigged “election” will not immediately change the repressive atmosphere that regularly sees military personnel in uniform patrolling university campuses and “inviting” students and academics to military bases for “attitude adjustment” session. There’s also massive censorship of online media and the domestic news media is not free from interference.

In addition, under the military government, films, discussions, seminars and more, related to Thailand and other countries, have been suppressed.

Even if there is a change of government following the junta’s rigged “election,” there are major topics of interest to academics working on Thailand and probably Myanmar, Cambodia, China and Vietnam that will be frowned upon. There will also be an effort to censor and self-censor discussion of anything to do with the monarchy and the military that is not laudatory.

Thailand seems a rather poor choice. But, as the AAS makes clear, visas will be relatively easy to get. Well, at least for those who are not already blacklisted or who face arrest in Thailand.








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