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.

Not a scholar, a fascist

12 02 2015

Long-time readers will know that PPT has little time for “scholars” or “academics” who prostitute themselves to various administrations.

They will also know that most of these “scholars” or “academics” usually have few of the accoutrements usually associated with university scholars such as research, publications and so on.

These readers will also know that we consider academic-for-hire Panitan Wattanayagorn an example of this kind of “academic” charlatanism. He has thrown himself at the feet of various royalist and military regimes, licking their boots, benefiting from salary and privilege, while maintaining the benefits attached to his “academic” position at Chulalongkorn University.Panitan

Often the mainstream media facilitate Panitan’s chameleon role as academic/spokesman/adviser for royalist and fascist rulers.

The Bangkok Post reports that Panitan is a “government adviser” and adviser to the Ministry of Defence. That is, he is working for the military dictatorship.

It also says he is a “political science expert.” PPT guesses that his PhD from a third-tier US university is evidence of some capacity in political science, yet there is no “academic” neutrality or intellectual consideration for Panitan. His “expertise” is in “advising” fascists.

This is why he “has defended the continuation of martial law after a group of lawyers released a damning report that exposed violations of human rights and international obligations under martial law.”

None of this nonsense for the fascist Panitan, who states that “the political situation is not yet stable enough to lift martial law despite human rights concerns.”

We doubt Panitan has any conception of “human rights,” and if he does, he would prefer to trash them. Here’s how he justifies military dictatorship:

Under a country with martial law, you’d expect certain pressure on human rights just to keep peace, order and civility…. Of course the military realises that in the end, in principle, martial law is not good for Thailand because it’s a strong pill. If you take a strong medicine too long, it may destroy your internal organs….

… [But] Thailand is very sick….

PPT reckons the “illness” is the military itself. Panitan parrots military nonsense, not just because he is paid by the dictatorship but because he worships it.

Panitan justifies the military dictatorship that has imposed and maintained martial law summoned 666 people, arrested 134 for peacefully protesting, 362 for “other political charges” and at least 36 people “prosecuted for lèse majesté…”.

Updated: Junta warns academics

22 09 2014

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:

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.

Silencing academics

19 09 2014

The May 2014 military coup has send a chill through all those who think and talk about politics.

The military dictatorship, which has strong support from royalists and other anti-democrats, is no different from other authoritarian regimes. It fears freedoms of expression, assembly and thought. Early on, the military junta specifically targeted academics considered unreliable.

While most academics in Thailand are quiescent in the face of repression and threat, and some academic prostitutes applaud repression, it is reported at the Bangkok Post reports that a tiny group who, with students, organized a forum entitled “Democracy Classroom: Chapter 2 – The Decline of Dictatorships in Foreign Countries,” have found the forum closed by the police. In addition, the organizers and academics were taken in for questioning and “re-education” on their defiance of the military.

Naturally enough, the academics had chosen not to speak of Thailand’s military dictatorship. But even the doltish cops realized that any opposition to military dictatorship was potentially dangerous. Well, maybe not, but their military bosses managed to notice.

The result of this intolerance and rising totalitarianism was that retired and well-known academic Nidhi Eowsriwong, Chaowarit Chaosangrat, Janjira Sombatpoonsiri and Prajak Kongkiratiand were hauled off to a police station. So were the student organizers who are a “group of Thammasat students who call themselves the League of Liberal Thammasat for Democracy, or LLTD.” They were subjected to an “attitude adjustment” session from the cops.

The University might have also been in trouble as “soldiers had earlier submitted a letter to the university asking it to prevent such activities.” Yet to date the royalist administration of the once politically-thriving university has prevented politics on campus. In fact, the University’s administration slithered about and “responded to the military’s request by locking a lecture room used to organise LLTD’s last seminar, but the group went ahead with the seminar in the foyer of the building.”

The” police would release the lecturers and students once they reached an understanding with them.” Usually that means signing an agreement to not discuss any politics that offends the prickly leaders of the military dictatorship.

Royalist hangers-on join in increasingly nasty attacks on Nitirat

26 01 2012

When the military boss barks, the royalists hangers-on get in on the act too. In the case of this op-ed in the Bangkok Post, it is the royalist Veera Prateepchaikul getting in on the coattails of the leader and the yellow shirt social media.

Over the past several years we have pointed to Veera’s op-eds. In April 2009 we pointed out that, like the deeply yellow-shirted media, Veera was calling for “protection” for General Prem Tinsulanonda from red shirt criticism. He got angrier on this in November 2009. Also in that year, in September, he called for more watchful control of the media (to prevent Thaksin Shinawatra getting airtime). He’s also had a record of accusations of disloyalty against (guess who?) red shirts and calling for the use of “pre-emptive” action against them while applauding the use of draconian emergency security laws. And, of course, he’s been supportive of every other royalist attacking “the enemy,” including defending the demonstrably corrupt judiciary. Readers are sure to get the picture.

Hence it is no surprise that this compromised writer would want to join in the attack on Nitirat. He does it like one of those gutless kids who is a hanger-on with bullies who slips in when the one being bullied has already been knocked down.

He begins by noting that the big boys have already thrown verbal punches at the Nitirat academics, claiming that they have “overstepped the line and provoked uproar among the military and within pro-monarchy academia.”

His problem is that the Nitirat group came up with a proposal that the head of state – the king – “take an oath before the parliament to protect the constitution.” PPT would have thought this a reasonable proposal in a country where there has been little attention to constitution by either the military or the king.

He goes on to cite “the most vociferous critics is Dr Bovorksak Uwanno of King Prachadhipok Institute, who targeted Dr Vorajate.” Bowornsak is meant to be a senior legal scholar but according to Veera, Bowornsak engages in nasty personal attack:

He said that as a recipient of a King Anand scholarship, Dr Vorajate should have taken an oath himself, that he would not be ungrateful to the King who bestowed the scholarship on him. The scholarship made it possible for Vorajate to finish his PhD in law in Germany, Dr Bovorksak pointed out.

So much for scholarly debate. So let us suggest that Bowornsak should probably have a doctorate in academic prostitution. This is a shameless man who has sold himself to several governments and privy councilors. And, yes, he is an academic defender of lese majeste whose arguments are shot through with error and he sounds more like propagandist than scholar. His account of lese majeste was corrected by the Dutch ambassador.

Even before that, another member of the Nitirat group suggested that His Majesty the King should not be allowed to address the public.

The Nitirat group is in favour of amending or totally scrapping the lese majeste law, or Secton 112 of the Criminal Code, claiming that it is undemocratic, obsolete and goes against free expression.

Veera gets going again and compares his version of Nitirat’s proposals as reminding him of “the Soviet Union under Stalin…”.  Yes folks, Stalin. Boy, he must have had to really dig into his bucket of smears to come up with that one!

And who does Veera call on for support in dismissing Nitirat? Not Stalin, but Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung. Adding in big boss General Prayuth Chan-ocha, Veera proceeds to dub Nitirat’s proposal that a head of state should vow to uphold the constitution as “outrageous.”In case readers missed it, Veera repeats that it is an “outrageous, insulting and stupid suggestion…”. Simply unacceptable he says.

PPT can only wonder why Veera and his ilk should think the proposal so hopeless and unacceptable that they need to spend so much time on it. If it was such a hopeless idea, wouldn’t it just fade away?

We can only repeat from an earlier post: Why is this set of proposals so threatening? Are the foundations of the whole royalist regime so weak that a set of proposals threatens to bring the whole thing crashing down? Perhaps the the system is weaker than we would have guessed.

Updated: Academic prostitute working the political street

17 11 2010

PPT apologizes to all hardworking sex workers for this headline which may be seen asassociating them with academics for hire. However, we are at a loss as to how to describe the behavior of senior “academics” who seem to sell themselves to any regime that is willing to fork out the jobs and cash.

It is reported in the Bangkok Post that “former cabinet secretary-general and law professor Borwornsak Uwanno will head a panel of largely outsiders to study the controversial Constitution Court video clips.”

Bowornsak, currently secretary-general of the royalist propaganda unit, the King Prajadhipok Institute, has an envious record of political promiscuity. He worked assiduously for Thaksin Shinawatra when he was prime minister, including fronting efforts to have Paul Handley’s The King Never Smiles, blocked and/or banned. He was rather late for a royalist in jumping ship. When he did, he was like a man who had found a new religion, writing pretty lame statements of loyalty to the current monarch and then being invited to work for the post-2006 coup regime. Now he’s working for the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime as if nothing has changed for him. In fact, he will bed down with any regime.

This time, Bowornsak is paid to “investigate those who released the controversial Constitutional Court videos. Not the substance of the videos which show a corrupt court, but the whistle blowers. His ability to accept such “work” is disgraceful, but expected from this kind of academic for sale. No principles except those associated with filthy lucre and the reflected glory of the amart.

Bowornsak is a “model” for “engaged” and entrepreneurial academics in Abhisit’s Thailand; he will go wherever there is money or status to be had. As a lawyer, he is betraying the best principles of his profession by following the loot rather than seeking anything approaching justice.

Update: Bowornsak says that he has quit this panel. We doubt this was due to PPT’s comments….

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