Defending the indefensible

24 08 2010

Dean of the Faculty of Political Science at Chulalongkorn University, Charas Suwanmala, while admitting that he has received his information from the lecturer involved, is reported by Prachatai to have defended  Weerasak Krueathep’ s decision to prevent students from demonstrating at an event meant to celebrate the anniversary of the establishment of the Faculty with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva as a guest. PPT’s earlier post is here. Of course, Abhisit attended an overseas university, not the royalist Chula.

According to a Matichon report cited by Prachtai, Charas said that “Weerasak did not overreact” when he ripped posters away from students, and also contended that this action was “reasonable, and not in violation of the rights of the students.”  In fact, he was doing his job as an organizer of the event and ensuring that it “went smoothly.” Weerasak seemed convinced that the naughty students would have signs that “would contain vulgar messages like those of the red shirts, so he seized them.” It seems pretty clear that Weerasak was simply worried that students carrying any kind of red shirt message would embarrass the premier, himself and the royalist university.

The Dean went further, insisting that Weerasak would not suppress students’ freedom of expression.  The point is that he did. Charas the adds that his Faculty “has been open for all colours.”  In fact, he says, “open, more than any other university…”. His claim that Weerasak would have let the students protest if he’d been made aware in advance of all the details seems lame.

Weerasak admits that the “PM’s security team alerted him to a group of students standing among students he had organized to greet the PM.  The group carried folded placards in their hands.  He approached them and asked to see the placards.  He had to repeat the demand, but the students tried to walk away. So he snatched the placards, but not by force.” [snatch: v. to make a sudden effort to seize something]

Dean Charas is dissembling. He has a well-known reputation as a staunch yellow-shirted academic. In April he joined with royalists including Police General Vasit Dejkunchorn, in rounding up other yellow shirts, including fellow Chula academic Tul Sitthisomwong, in demonstrating against red shirts by dressing in royalist pink. Vasit and Charas are reported to have sworn an oath before the statue of King Rama VI to protect the nation [from nasty red shirts]. Their crowd chanted royalist slogans, sang royalist songs and demanded that Abhisit not dissolve the House, which was the only red shirt demand at the time. Leaflets claiming Thaksin Shinawatra had defamed the king were also distributed.

Also in April, Charas joined with other royalist academics such as People’s Alliance for Democracy ideologue Chai-Anan Samudvanij, Pramual Wirutamasen, dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Chulalongkorn, Sombat Thamrongthanyawong, rector of the National Institute of Development Administration and royalist ideologue Pramote Nakhonthap in attacking red shirts. And as to his ideas about freedom and democracy, in July, Charas talked about democracy (see here). Charas makes it clear that democracy, while a noble goal, is potentially dangerous. Not least when vote-buying looms so large (at least in his mind).

In other words, given his track record, it is predictable that Charas would support a fellow yellow-shirted academic. If readers think us unfair, ask these questions: 1. What support did Charas provide for his colleague Ji Ungpakorn, harassed in his publishing and then chased into exile by royalist claims of lese majeste?; and 2. How vocal was Charas in supporting his colleague Suthachai Yimprasert when he was arrested on flimsy charges under the draconian emergency decree? It is clear that Charas has double standards.

Further updated: The royalist bastion at Chulalongkorn University

19 08 2010

Prachatai has an interesting account of Chulalongkorn University maintaining its well-deserved reputation as the bastion of royalist ideology. And, even more striking, the story has to do with elements from the administration and the Faculty of Political Science preventing political activism. The story is of a group of Chulalongkorn students attempting to protest against a visit by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to the university. Their protest was opposed by a political science lecturer and university security guards.

About 7-8 students tried to protest outside the venue that Abhisit visited and to present him with a letter. They held placards with messages that used Abhisit’s own words to protest. University security guards reportedly seized some of their placards and lecturer Weerasak Krueathep snatched others away and scuffled with the students.

The university and the lecturer should be ashamed of this attempt to prevent free speech by university students. More importantly, if Abhisit was really in favor of free speech and was a political liberal, then he’d speak out against such repressive actions.

Update 1: Readers will find the commentary by Suranand Vejjajiva of some use in contextualizing this case. He comments on recent actions against students who are seen as siding with the opposition. The weight of repression is indeed becoming great.

Update 2: Prachatai has a follow-up story, showing the double standards of yellow shirts on academic and political freedom.

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