Academics Speak Out Amid Growing Concerns Over Repression

 | Thu 25 Sep 2014 20:48 ICT

CityNews – Academics have slammed the “despotic” military junta for forcing the cancellation of a seminar at Chiang Mai University (CMU).

Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The event, titled “Happiness and Reconciliation Under the 2014 Interim Constitution”, was due to be held at CMU’s faculty of law today.

But Third Army commander Lt-Gen Preecha Chan-ocha said on Tuesday that the organisers agreed to postpone it after soldiers “negotiated” with them. The regional commander is the younger brother of junta chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha.

“Such a decision is extremely unfortunate and represents how Thailand’s armed forces are increasingly seeking to drive nails into academic freedom,” Dr Paul Chambers of Chiang Mai’s Institute of South East Asian Affairs told CityNews.

The move comes amid growing concerns over the repression of academic freedom in Thailand since the May 22 coup. Last week, police and soldiers broke up a panel talk on the “Demise of Dictatorships in Foreign Countries” at Bangkok’s Thammasat University, and briefly detained three students and four academics, including the prominent historian Nidhi Eoseewong.

Earlier this month, soldiers forced the organisers to cancel a talk on human rights at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand in Bangkok.

Sixty Thai and foreign academics from 16 universities across the country have signed a petition urging the junta to respect their freedom. Others said their colleagues practiced self-censorship or tacitly supported the coup and the military government.

“Academic discourse and the currency of intellectual exchange are the hallmarks of a functioning civil society, let alone a functional democracy. Thailand is presently neither of these,” said Dr Wayne Deakin, a British senior lecturer in literature and language at CMU.

“More worrying perhaps is the fact that many academics in the humanities are not fulminating against the present injustices – but this is perhaps less to do with the fact that they are afraid, and more to do with the fact they possibly endorse the suppression of the populist policies of the recent government.”

The junta has told academics that they must have permission to organise forums, and that it must first approve the topics for discussion. General Prayuth insists he is not restricting academic freedom, but says politics must not be discussed at these events, according to reports.

Dr Pavin Chachavalpongpun of Kyoto University‚Äôs Centre for Southeast Asia Studies called the cancellation of the seminar at CMU “an appalling shame both on the part of the National Council for Peace and Order and the university”.

“For the university to agree to the cancellation of an academic seminar, this only adds a layer of legitimacy to the order,” Dr Pavin, who has been stripped of his Thai passport and is currently seeking political asylum in Japan, told CityNews.

“It is a wrong move on the part of the university – instead of defending academic freedom, the university is willing to succumb to despotic rule.

“Anywhere else in the world, academics are protected, even in the worst kind of situation. In Thailand, however, academics are under threat. And the executives of the university seem to be doing nothing but promote censorship within the university.”