Southerners urge junta to stop intimidating academics

A citizen network in southern Thailand has demanded that the Thai junta withdraw charges against embattled academics and stop intervening in academic freedom.

A network of 50 academics, physicians, and others from the southern province of Songkhla on Sunday, 22 November 2015, issued a joint statement addressed to the Thai military government after several academics last week were accused of violating the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) ban on political gatherings.

“The citizen network of Songkhla urges the NCPO to stop infringing upon academic freedom. Universities are not military camps,” said the joint statement.

The statement mentioned that Charoon Yuthong and Nattapong Jitnirat, two academics from Thaksin University, Songkhla Campus, are among the academics who received summons from the authorities after they urged the junta not to intervene in academic freedom.

The two academics have been active in social work in the South.

Some of the signatories of the joint statement are Apichart Chandaeng, a lecturer of Songklanagarind University, Vittaya Aphorn, a lecturer from Walailak University, Supat Hasuwannakit, the Director of Chana Hospital of Songkhla, and Chalom Kaetujinda from the Consumersouth Network of Songkhla.

“The NCPO abuses its power, using it to intimidate academics instead of using it for instigating reforms,” added the statement.

According to Midnight University, a virtual university for free public education, police from Chang Puak Police Station in northern Chiang Mai Province on 11 November issued summons for Attachak Sattayanurak, a history lecturer from Chiang Mai University, and several other academics.

The letter states that Attachak and other fellow academics participated in a political gathering which violated the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) Order No. 3/2015, which bans any political gathering of five or more persons.

If found guilty, Attachak and the other academics could be jailed for up to one year and fined up to 20,000 baht.

Attachak said that the summons was issued in relation to a joint statement of a network of academics countrywide, which he read out in a public lecture hall on 31 October 2015. The statement urges the Thai junta not to intervene in academic freedom, saying that ‘universities are not military camps’.

The summon letter states that Attachak and other academics have to report to Chang Puak Police Station at 9 am on Tuesday, 24 November 2015.  

Somchai Preechasinlapakun, a law lecturer of Chiang Mai University who is among the accused, told Prachatai that he will report to the police on Tuesday and that he still maintains firmly that universities should be free from junta control.

“Freedom of expression belongs to everyone in society,” said Somchai. “I think it’s sad that when there is intimidation against freedom of expression in universities, we barely hear anything from university administrators.”

According to a report of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) published in June 2015, 80 academic seminars were blocked by the Thai junta between 22 May 2014, the day when the coup d’état was staged, and June 2015.   

On 27 October 2015, Prayut Chan-o-cha, the junta leader and Prime Minister, announced that he will order the Ministry of Education to adjust school curricula in order to prevent conflicts and anti-junta sentiments.