There is irony in recent statements from General Prawit Wongsuwon, Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister. As reported in today’s Bangkok Post, General Prawit has said, “I want to stress 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”.

The irony, plain as day, is that General Prawit serves a military dictatorship that shredded Thailand’s hesitant and faltering democracy on 22 May 2014. That is four months ago today.

Since then, the team at New Mandala has been watching the situation with some sadness, from a distance. Army rule, whatever its supporters imply, brings no glory.

That General Prawit wants to lecture some of Thailand’s leading academics on the need for things to be done in accordance with “the law” would be laughable if it didn’t simply reveal the hollowness of the “coup culture” he has helped create. The law, in case General Prawit had failed to notice, comes from the barrel of his gun.

While we all hope that the coup-makers will eventually return Thailand to some semblance of democratic rule, in the meantime the military government should not expect their abuse of law and language to pass without comment.

Free-and-open academic discussion — like a free press, or effective judiciary, or non-political armed forces — is a key building block for the world’s more successful societies. The evidence for the advantages that such academic discussion offers is writ large in the resilience of those systems that embrace open debate.

While I doubt anybody is surprised by the ongoing campaign against free expression in Thailand, it remains a lamentable situation. Seeing scholars I greatly respect temporarily detained for their involvement in a recent academic seminar only heightens the sense that Thailand will not quickly recover from its self-inflicted wounds.

We are all the poorer when academics and their students are denied the opportunity to consider important topics such as “The Decline of Dictatorships in Foreign Countries”. There is no easy solution to Thailand’s multifaceted political woes but surely the answer won’t be found while even basic discussions of comparative politics are judged beyond the pale.