Students, EC and censorship

30 03 2019

It has been widely reported that university students have begun a campaign to impeach the bungling, opaque and puppet Election Commission over its mishandling of the 24 March “election.” The universities involved were reportedly: Chulalongkorn, Thammasat (Rangsit campus), King Mongkut Institute of Technology (Thon Buri campus), Kasetsart (Bang Khen campus), Chiang Mai, Naresuan, Burapha, Prince of Songkla (Pattani campus) and Rajabhat Rachanakharin.

Channeling 1957, the Chulalongkorn University Student Council demanded “an explanation from the EC about widespread allegations of irregularities.” Meanwhile, the Thammasat University Student Union released a “statement saying that commission officials must be investigated because their sloppy procedures resulted in ambiguous election results…”.

Following up on the Army’s apparent support for the EC, the junta’s Deputy PM Wissanu Krea-ngam, poured ice water on the student’s demands for impeachment, saying the “process would be long as the [junta’s handpicked] Senate is required by law to forward the case to the [junta’s puppet] National Anti-Corruption Commission.” And, even if malfeasance is found by the NACC, it is the senate that decides whether to remove the EC officials.

In other words, Wissanu thumbed his nose at the students, essentially saying, expend your energy, but fat chance that anything will happen.

And then the usual dirty tricks began, manifested as repression.

Students at Kasetsart “were barred by the university from campaigning and collecting signatures from other students,” and uniformed and plainclothes police and the university’s security guards photographed the students before forcing them to campaign off campus. In fact, they were forced to move twice.

Kasetsart’s rector Jongrak Watcharinrat either lied or is non compos mentis that “he did not know about the incident and insisted that students have the right to hold any campaign on the campus as long as it’s not against the law.” We know he is in one of these states because the “university issued an announcement prohibiting any unauthorized activities from taking place on university grounds, and university officials told the students that the university cannot get involved in politics.”

Not only did the university and police thugs make the students move, but they reportedly “stopped some students from signing the petition…”.

One might have “hoped” that this was a case of one deep yellow set of anti-democrat administrators acting to protect the junta. Sadly, though, it appears that this is a junta-directed campaign against the anti-EC students, with Prachatai stating:

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights reported that Chiang Mai University has also prohibited students from campaigning, claiming that the students did not ask for permission to use the space, and at Khon Kaen University, students said that police officers came to observe the campaign and questioned them. There was also a report that university officials also came to tell the students that the Faculty of Law did not allow them to use the space.

The whole election process, always bogus and rigged, is now being “validated” as a fraud by the actions of the junta and its thugs. But did anyone expect anything else from this regime?

Updated: More on Norawase’s lese majeste case

15 08 2011

Norawase Yotpiyasathien, a recent and young business administration graduate from Kasetsart University who was arrested last week for his online posts and charged with lese majeste and computer crimes offences, is getting some international attention. International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) has an alert and University World News has a detailed account.

While the latter account has Norawase as “the youngest and the latest victim of Thailand’s lèse majesté law,” there are apparently even juveniles who have been charged and who may well be in prison on lese majeste convictions. It reports that the “student was released on bail last week after three nights in Bangkok Remand Prison, when his parents put up a 1.6 million baht (US$54,000) bond.”

UWN states that Norawase’s 5 August arrest in Bangkok “has caused deep dismay among many students.” Norawase was arrested under a warrant issued on 14 October 2010 after a complaint was laid by a Kasetsart Deputy Rector of Student Affairs, “who in turn was reportedly tipped off by students from the same university.” It adds that while “several academics have been charged with lèse majesté, the student arrest is seen as widening the net and has raised questions about how far students should go in expressing themselves online.”

The article goes on to quote several students who express dismay and fear:

Mana Chunsuthiwat, an outspoken final-year student in the faculty of arts at Chulalongkorn University, said the case made her fearful. It could happen to anyone, she said, because the lèse majesté law is “quite random” with no standard interpretation. “If it happens to me, I couldn’t afford to fight the case. I would feel powerless. I have no [political] connections, nothing,” she said.

Rakchart Wongaphichart, 20, the self-assured student union vice-president at Bangkok’s Thammasat University, said: “I think we can express our opinions but they have to be within safe boundaries. “Of course, I’ll have to be more careful of what I say, though usually I’m quite aware of how to express opinions without taking too many risks…”. Rakchart, who described himself as politically active, said he was not afraid it would happen to him because he regards the faculty at his university as quite “liberal.”

Another politically-active student questioned the role of the deputy rector in delivering the charges. A Chulalongkorn University student, said that he “questioned whether some university teachers had moral authority. He said acting morally should include respecting students’ opinions, supporting the development of critical thinking, and allowing students to acquire knowledge beyond their texts.” He added that he felt “freedom of expression is threatened.” This case will make students fearful and make them less willing to express themselves.

The article goes on to explain that Thai universities indicate “deep divisions between pro-royalist and pro-democracy student factions.” This has seen a nasty online discussion that has condemned Norawase. Likewise, there  are those who “condemn the actions of the deputy rector.” According to the report,

Norawase was apparently ‘witch hunted’ by a Facebook group calling itself the Social Sanction (SS) group, according to his father. His name, photos, personal address and numbers were posted online, and he was heavily criticised by members of the SS group. On their Facebook page, the group – sometimes described as ‘ultra-royalist’ – states that its objectives are “to increase public awareness of corruption and create pressure to combat it and to stop the crime of lese majeste”. They add: “Only those with the courage to face the evil will rise to protect and serve the kingdom and the monarchy for the brighter future of Thailand.” On Norawase’s arrest they wrote triumphantly “another one is down”. Norawase is the first student to face lèse-majesté charges, but the group has also targeted other students.

The article cites Sawitree Suksri, a law lecturer at Thammasat University, as describing the SS group’s methods as “vicious” and “irrational” and “a form of online violence that parallels the real-life violence in Thailand. She also noted in a signed article that the ongoing Social Sanction phenomenon appeared to have the support of the Thai authorities.” The latter being a reference to the Abhisit Vejajiva government’s establishment of “cyber-scout” vigilantes.

UWN explains that it is “not clear if … members of the SS group” went to the university administration with a complaint against Norawase. However is says that these students “may have been members of similar self-styled online vigilante groups.”

PPT also notes that the prosecution of this case coincided with the declaration of the new government. We think it highly likely that the Yingluck Shinawatra government is being “tested” by royalists. The latter wish to ensure that the regime of lese majeste repression continues and hence will likely push for more prosecutions, so that the Yingluck administration will need to respond with acts of “loyalty.” So far, the outlook on lese majeste remains bleak.

Update: Readers will find much that is of interest in the excellent post by Saksith Saiyasombut at Siam Voices that reflects on this arrest and lese majeste under a Yingluck administration.

Lese majeste suspect released on bail

10 08 2011

Prachatai reports that Kasetsart University graduate Norawase Yospiyasathien (22), who was arrested and detained by police several days ago for alleged lese majeste and infractions of the computer crimes laws, has been released on bail.

Apparently, his initial warrant for arrest “was issued on 14 Oct 2010, when he was studying in his last year at the university, as a result of a complaint lodged by a Deputy Rector of the university who had received a complaint from another student. Nipon Limlamthong, the Deputy Rector, claimed that he had to file the police complaint because he had been pressured by the University Council and wanted to protect the reputation of the university.”

Norawase is alleged to have copied texts from the Same Sky web-board, currently, onto his Windows Live page.

Prachatai states that, in response to the arrest, “two groups of academics and activists, Santiprachatham and Free Kasetsart, have launched sign-on campaigns to oppose the Deputy Rector’s action. Over 400 people have already signed on each of the campaigns.”

Meanwhile, Pravit Rojanaphruk at The Nation reports that this arrest is part of an ongoing lese majeste witch hunt. He states that ASTV/Manager newspaper, “the mouthpiece of the yellow-shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), on Monday produced the picture and name of the latest man charged under lese majeste laws.” It said that the  “ultra-royalist social-sanction group (known as the SS) as declaring victoriously: ‘Another one is down’.”

SS posted information about the man “to assist, or even encourage, ultra-royalists to send threatening e-mail or make hate phone calls to the man and his family.” ASTV/Manager also attacked him.

Pravit states that:

Currently, at least 11 people are in Bangkok Remand Prison alone for alleged breaches of the lese majeste law. It’s not clear how many more are in jail in Bangkok and beyond for such “crimes”, which are normally not considered criminal acts in democratic societies. And what about those who, out of fear, keep their private conversations about the Palace to soft murmurs?

Those detained include a cook who peddled compact discs of a documentary programme about the Royal Family produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that has probably been watched by tens of thousands in Australia and beyond. Another, a key red-shirt member and magazine editor, Somyos Prueksakasemsuk, is in jail without bail for allowing an anonymous writer to pen two articles that didn’t even refer directly to … the King.

Lese majeste will continue to be at the heart of political debates for some time, especially as the defeated Democrat Party and fellow royalists will seek to display the “lack of loyalty” amongst their opponents.

Ji on the shame of lese majeste at Kasetsart University

7 08 2011

As we usually do, PPT posts Ji Ungapkorn’s latest note, sent by email. A new story on the case is here. PPT will shortly add the case to our list of lese majeste accounts here:

University authorities in Thailand have sunk to even lower depths in the destruction of academic freedom. This week a student from Kasetsart University, in Bangkok, was arrested and jailed under the draconian lèse majesté law for posting a comment on the internet. The use of this law and the associated censorship is bad enough, but what is an absolute disgrace is the fact that it was the Deputy Rector of Kasetsart University, Nipon Limlamtong, who filed charges against the student with the police. Nipon has special responsibility for student activities. In other words he is there to enforce censorship and prevent academic freedom in the university.

This is not the first time that Thai universities have behaved like this. I had to leave Thailand in 2009 because I wrote a book criticising the 2006 military coup. I said the coup received legitimacy from the King and I raised the question of whether or not the Thai King should defend the constitution and democracy. Again, it was the management of Chulalongkorn University, where I worked as a politics lecturer, who gave my book to the police special branch. In my opinion it is impossible to write a book criticising the coup without trying to discuss the role of the and any politics academic who ignores or supports military coups is not fit to teach students in a politics department. I was charged with lèse majesté for “insulting the King” which I did not do, but this law was used against me because I opposed the military coup. Since the coup, there has been a dramatic increase in the use of the law to try to silence the opposition. Many Red Shirt activists are languishing in jail on lèse majesté charges and Dr Somsak Jeamteerasakul from the history department at Thammasart University is also facing the threat of lèse majesté.

Academic freedom for lecturers and students is not just a luxury for the few. Without academic freedom there can be no high standards of enquiry and research and societies without academic freedom are societies without democracy.

Time is rapidly running out for the newly elected government of Yingluk Shinawat to show that it is serious about democratic reforms. This government only won the election because of the struggles and sacrifices of Red Shirts. It is time to scrap the lèse majesté law and end censorship of all kinds. Political prisoners must be immediately released and all charges dropped. The head of the army should be sacked and the generals and politicians who ordered the killings of unarmed pro-democracy Red Shirts last year must be brought to court, just like Mubarak in Egypt.

As for the international academic community that makes a living from studying Thailand, I pose these questions: How many of you are going to remain silent about the destruction of academic freedom in Thailand so that you can continue to travel to Thailand? When will the majority of foreign academic follow the lead of those principled academics outside Thailand who have already made a stand against lèse majesté? Is it time to boycott institutions like Kasetsart and Chulalongkorn Universities until they change their ways? Will any of these issues ever be discussed at international conferences on Thailand?

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