The College of Politics and Governance of Mahasarakham University has refused permission to a group of students to hold a public forum to discuss Article 112 on its premises, citing concerns of possible violent conflict.
A group of students planned to hold a public forum on ‘Rights and Freedoms in a Democracy under the Lèse Majesté Law’ on 1 Feb, and asked the college for permission to use a room in one of its buildings for the forum, but their request was denied by the Dean of the College.
On 31 Jan, the students launched a campaign collecting signatures of students, alumni and other people to demand an explanation from the college.
In response, College Dean Assoc Prof Sida Sonsri released a statement to the media explaining the decision to refuse permission, saying that the college’s administrators, in consideration of the increasing conflicts of ideas in society, were concerned that they would not be able to deal with any violence that might occur on the college’s premises if the activity was allowed to happen.
The college does not suppress academic freedom, but needs to maintain its neutrality because students and staff at the college include those who have differing views on the lèse majesté issue, she said.
She asked the students to hold the forum at a more proper place where ‘diverse views can be expressed with no risk of violence, which is unforeseeable due to conflicts on such a sensitive issue. This may lead to damage to public property and, more importantly, affect the unity of students and staff in the overall image of the College.’
On 2 Feb, a group of students held a protest at the college, holding banners and reading a statement against the Dean’s decision and explanation under the watchful eye of the administrative authorities and police.
While they were protesting, another group of students also held banners to defend the College and support the Dean, claiming that ‘students do not want the forum to be held because it is a sensitive issue.’
Sida and other College administrators came out to meet the protesters, saying that they had not restricted academic freedom and asking them to reread her statement. She then gave flowers to the protesters.
'We don't want a wreath.' :College supporting students
The protesters decided not to lay a wreath in protest as had been planned for fear of clashes with the College’s supporters, and instead distributed information to other students and people instead.