Charas Suwanmala, Dean of the Faculty of Political Science of Chulalongkorn University, has received information from the lecturer regarding the reported scuffle between him and a group of students who tried to protest against Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva during his visit to the university last week.
According to Matichon, Charas said that he was not there when the incident happened, but he had received a report from Weerasak Krueathep. In his view, Weerasak did not overreact. What he did was reasonable, and not in violation of the rights of the students. As he was an organizer of the event marking the anniversary of the establishment of the Faculty with the Prime Minister as a guest, he had to make sure that the event went smoothly, but the group of students carried folded placards and did not let Weerasak see what they said. Upon Weerasak’s asking to see the placards, the students tried to walk away. Weerasak was afraid that the placards would contain vulgar messages like those of the red shirts, so he seized them.
‘I insist that Weerasak is not the kind of person who suppresses students’ freedom of expression. Our Faculty, in particular, has been open for all colours. We used our own budget to organize a forum for the red shirts from across the country to express their political opinions, and another forum for the yellow shirts the following week. This Faculty has been open, more than any other university,’ Charas said, adding that if the students had let the lecturer see the messages and find there was no problem, he would have let them protest.
Weerasak explained to Matichon that when he was walking to check the route for the Prime Minister’s exit, 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.
‘Then one of the students came to me and said whether they were not allowed to express their political opinions. I said that this was an academic forum, and I was the organizer. This was my place. If you have any problems, you can make a complaint later,’ Weerasak said.
Weerasak said that he had been misquoted. He was quoted to suit the quoters’ agenda. He meant that the venue was under his responsibility, not Chulalongkorn which was royally granted.
The Minister of Education Chinnaworn Boonyakiat asked all sides to understand each other. The Chulalongkorn organizers would have wanted to see the event go smoothly. To know whether or not they suppressed the students’ freedom, we have to look into the facts, he said.
He said that the government and the Ministry of Education had no policy to block students’ freedom of expression. He instead has a clear policy to promote students’ expression of opinions on politics. And he is still optimistic that no one wants to divide society, but merely have differing views which can be solved by promoting mutual understanding.
Chaiyos Chiramethakorn, Deputy Minister of Education in charge of the Office of Higher Education, said that he had instructed the office to notify all universities of the policy of the government and the ministry to promote students’ freedom of expression. However, he did not know about the incident at Chulalongkorn University, and was waiting for a report from the university.