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.”

Questioning royalism at Harvard

18 08 2014

The Harvard Crimson is the Ivy-League institution’s news outlet. American universities have a long history of struggle that pits elites and elite interests against public good. Think of Yale’s role in the birth of the CIA. Or consider the roles played by U.S. academics in counterinsurgency operations, including in Thailand.

It is thus good to see a critical assessment of the position of Harvard on Thai Studies and accepting elite loot. The questioning of the “qualifications” of rather dull royals who are granted academic credentials is long overdue.

Reproduced in full from The Harvard Crimson, including links:

Troubles with Thai Studies
By Ilya Garger

As human rights in Thailand deteriorate under a military junta, Harvard is collaborating with key supporters of the recent coup to create a permanent Thai Studies program at the university. These individuals, most prominently former Foreign Ministers Surin Pitsuwan and Surakiart Satirathai, have spearheaded a campaign to raise $6 million for the program, which they have characterized as a means of promoting Thailand’s monarchy and national interests. Professor Michael Herzfeld, who is leading the initiative, wrote in an emailed statement to me that the program would not be tied to specific political interests and Harvard conducts due diligence on its donors. However, by lending credibility to allies of a totalitarian regime and allowing them to use Harvard as a platform, the university is doing Thailand and itself a disservice.

In a Bangkok Post editorial calling on Thailand’s “foreign friends” to support the coup, Surakiart characterized the military takeover—which saw a democratically elected government overthrown and hundreds of activists, academics, and journalists arbitrarily detained—as a benign “reform process.” At a fundraising event I attended in Bangkok last August, Surakiart declared that the Thai Studies at Harvard was intended as “a program to honor the King.” King Bhumibol was born in Cambridge in 1927 when his father was studying public health at Harvard, but he did not bring the city’s progressive values back to Thailand. During his reign, he has supported military dictatorships, endorsed successive coups, and presided over a cult of personality enforced with more than half a century of indoctrination, propaganda, censorship and occasional violence. Criticism of the monarchy is illegal in Thailand, and hundreds have been jailed or prosecuted in recent years for violating the country’s lèse-majesté laws, which are the world’s harshest.

In its eagerness to secure money for the permanent program, which would include a tenured professorship and expand on lectures and courses introduced in 2012 with Foreign Ministry funding, Harvard has played along with Thai royalists. The Harvard Asia Center in 2012 named Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, the daughter of King Bhumibol and his possible successor, as a Distinguished Non-Resident Fellow. It is difficult to assess her qualifications because information about the royal family is tightly controlled. Her achievements in academics, languages, music and art have been touted for decades by the monarchy’s PR apparatus, but are little-documented by independent sources. Her fellowship followed the announcement of a recurring annual donation to Harvard from Thailand’s Foreign Ministry, which promotes the monarchy overseas. Since the coup on May 22, neither the princess nor any other members of the royal family have publicly expressed concern over the suspension of Thai citizens’ political rights, or the military’s harassment of academics, the media and others who have criticized its abuses.

Most of the Harvard program’s Thai backers are members of a conservative elite—which includes the aristocracy, generals, and wealthy families—that has dominated the country since the 1950s and rolled back reforms enacted after the absolute monarchy was overthrown in 1932. This group views growing political participation as a threat to its privileges, and has undermined successive elected governments through its influence over courts, appointed bodies and the armed forces. Most recently, the conservative establishment supported militant street protests that provided a pretext for last month’s coup, and subsequently threw its weight behind the royally-endorsed junta now ruling Thailand. Surin was a prominent public voice rationalizing the actions of mobs (led by stalwarts of his ironically named Democrat Party) that stormed government offices, physically obstructed elections, and agitated for a coup. Surakiart and Surin have been mentioned as potential Prime Ministers in an upcoming military-appointed administration.

While the junta claims its goal is to restore order, its main agenda has been purging allies of elected former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and promoting the interests of the monarchy and its elite associates. The military government has suppressed critical discussion of the monarchy (even targeting people’s Facebook activity), intensified propaganda glorifying the king and his family, and initiated changes to the education system to further promote royalism and nationalism. The Foreign Ministry, a conservative and aristocratic stronghold, has even attempted to stifle criticism of the coup at foreign universities.

At the Harvard fundraiser I attended in Bangkok last August, Surin used the word “beachhead” to describe the envisioned role of the Thai Studies program. His choice of a word with military and strategic connotations is significant. Having overthrown a series of elected governments and facing growing criticism from cold-war allies, the conservative establishment is working hard to rebuild its legitimacy abroad, and setting up a program at Harvard would be an important victory. Surin announced donations from several tycoons, and said he was seeking funding for the program from the King’s Crown Property Bureau, which manages the monarch’s wealth of more than $30 billion.

The Thai Studies program’s proponents at Harvard include well-intentioned and politically astute individuals who are aware that the some of the money being raised comes with an agenda. Michael Herzfeld in particular has a strong record of standing up for academic freedom. Harvard must ensure that the program is funded and run transparently, and that it is not co-opted by coup apologists or used to legitimize the monarchy. In the meantime, Harvard could burnish its credentials on Thailand by providing support for Thai academics forced into hiding or exile for criticizing the coup and its backers.

Ilya Garger GSAS ‘02 is the founder of Capital Profile, a Hong Kong-based business research service. He is a former reporter for Time magazine, and a member of the Harvard Club of Thailand’s executive committee.



2 10 2013

We noted an article a couple of days ago at the Bangkok Post on the long-proposed evictions and re-development of the Pom Mahakan neighborhood, at the centre of the so-called Rattanakosin Island. This article was by Michael Herzfeld who is said to be “the Ernest E Monrad Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University, where he also serves as coordinator for Thai Studies in the university’s Asia Centre.”

His article is a well-made plea to abandon the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) plan, in place for more than two decades, requiring the eviction of residents. Eviction notices are again being issued by the BMA. Herzfeld asks: After so long, why now?

Good question. But what of the context?

PPT found two snippets of interest. The first is from a downloadable PDF and refers to the role of the Crown Property Bureau:

Pom 2

The second also refers to the CPB and is from a book at Google Books:

Pom 1

We wonder if the CPB has divested itself of this land and disowned the plan, which it desperately wanted in order to raise rents following the Asian financial crisis?

We wonder why the professor only mentions the BMA? We also found this article on official Thai government support for Harvard University where Herzfeld is heading a drive for big money. This quote from the professor is code for the monarchy’s relationship with Harvard University: “Given the fact that there is a long symbolic association between Harvard and Thailand, it is quite shocking that Harvard and across the university doesn’t have Thai studies.”

Does fund raising lead to quietness on some issues or is the CPB now irrelevant to this eviction? As we all know, doing anything vaguely academic related to the monarchy requires either some courage (if critical) or being very quiet.

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