Academic freedom is under grave threat in Thailand.
Since the May 2014 Coup, scholars at Thailand’s institutions of higher learning have faced ongoing harassment and intimidation. Military presence on campus has now been coupled with new rules and restrictions on everyday instruction and standard university activities.
The intellectual and pedagogical environment for Thai professors is increasingly suffocating with no end in sight. Out of frustration, Thai historian Dr Attachak Sattayanurak (Faculty of Humanities, Chiang Mai University) and seven colleagues held a news conference on 31 October to request that the military reduce its involvement in university life.
Following this news conference, the involved professors were charged for violating NCPO Order 7/2014, for gathering in a group larger than five people for political purposes. Most have been summoned to appear individually to police in relation to these charges beginning Tuesday 24 November. Imprisonment up to one year plus additional fines are possible. Out of principle, Dr Attachak has pledged to refuse bail if detained.
In response to these events, Dr Anusorn Unno (Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Thammasat University) drafted the following statement in his capacity as Coordinator of the Academic Network for Detained Students (ANDS).
ANDS is currently collecting signatures in support of the letter from scholars in Thailand and abroad. Dr Anusorn plans to submit the letter to Prime Minister Prayuth on Monday, 23 November. Timely support is thus needed.
As a friend and research colleague of Dr Attachak, and in support of the other unfairly charged professors, I add my name in support of Dr Anusorn’s letter.
If any New Mandala readers would like to pledge your signature to this letter, please send ANDS a short email with your name, professional title, and your institutional affiliation (to: firstname.lastname@example.org); please write “Support Academic Freedom” in the subject box.
Dr Attachak and colleagues extend their deepest appreciation for your support of academic freedom in Thailand.
Robert Dayley, PhD
The College of Idaho
The ANDS letter to be submitted to Prime Minister Prayuth on Monday 23 November:
Academic Network for Detained Students
Statement no. 6
Universities are not barracks
Thailand is not a concentration camp
On 31 October 2015, a group of academics which call themselves “Network of University Academics” issued a statement “Universities are not barracks” which reaffirms the liberty to pursue knowledge for our teachings. However some members of the network were summoned by the police and charged with “having a political gathering of five persons or more in violation of the order of the head of the National Council for Peace and Order” (NCPO), a crime which carries a sentence of up to 1 year in prison or a fine of up to 20,000 Baht or both.
The Academic Network for Detained Students (ANDS) views such a charge against the academics to be in violation of our rights and liberties, aiming at threatening those who express opinions in contrary to the position of the NCPO. The threat was made despite the fact that the academics openly expressed their opinion in good faith and with good intention in accordance with their academic duty to share ideas and knowledge with the public. Other academics who called for the release of the students from detention and expressed their views are still threatened and the students are banned from and pressured against organizing political activities. Meanwhile, the NCPO has ordered an inclusion of university teaching materials saluting the military, which completely contravenes the principle of academic rights and liberty.
We reaffirm that “universities are not barracks”. Universities are places to pursue knowledge, to have free discussions and debates on the basis of facts and rationale, bringing about new knowledge and the growth in wisdom as the world is changing and new solutions are required for Thailand’s problems. The liberties to pursue knowledge and to express views are therefore the founding elements of universities and the society.
We reaffirm that “Thailand is not a concentration camp”. The Thai people enjoy diverse political views and beliefs. The path towards a peaceful society requires the liberty to believe and to express views based on facts and rationale. However, the Thai people are being treated as if we are detainees in concentration camps; we are being instilled with a singular ideal or belief in order to have the society fallen under a power structure controlled by a certain groups of individuals. This is done by shutting our ears and eyes, imposing force, threats and aggression using legal power that is unjust towards those holding differing opinions. This will bring about further conflicts while equality, liberty, democracy, fairness and peace will not be achieved in the Thai society.
ANDS members whose names appear following this statement therefore demand the following from the NCPO:
- End all threats and aggressions against academics who expressed their political views in good faith;
- End all bans on political activities and end all threats and aggressions against the students and citizens who wish to organize them; and
- End all interventions to make university teachings comply with the guidelines or substance preferred by the NCPO.
Should the NCPO ignore these demands, the ANDS shall consider the next level of actions on the matter.
With our faith in rights, liberties, and equality
Academic Network for Detained Students
23 November 2015