Lecturers deny charges of defying junta’s ban on gatherings

Embattled lecturers accused by the military of violating the junta’s ban on political gatherings have denied the charges, saying different ideas are crucial for Thai society.

At about 2:30 pm on Tuesday, 24 November 2015, six lecturers charged under the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) Order No. 3/2015, banning political gatherings of five or more persons, reported to Chang Puak Police Station in the northern province of Chiang Mai after summons were issued against them last week.

The six lecturers are Attachak Sattayanurak, Somchai Preechasinlapakun, a history and a law lecturer from Chiang Mai University, Charoon Yuthong, Nattapong Jitnirat, two academics from Thaksin University in southern Songkhla Province, and social science lecturers Mana Nakham from Khon Kaen University and Booncherd Nuim from Burapha University.

About 30-40 people came to the police station to show support for the academics.

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), Booncherd is not on the list of those summoned, but came to meet the police with other lecturers.

There were no military officers during the interrogation, but military officers in plainclothes were seen video-recording the briefing by the academics after the interrogation and people who came to support them, TLHR reported.     

Attachak told Prachatai that he and other lectures denied all charges. The police did not detain them after the interrogation.

“The police informed us that they received complaints from the military and they have to proceed. They [the military] felt that we broke some sort of an agreement on what not to say, which we never agreed upon. We confirm that what we did is legal and that different ideas are crucial for Thai society under the reconciliation and reform process,” said Attachak.

TLHR reported that the Commander of the 33rd Army Division ordered Lt Col Apichat Kantawong to file a complaint against eight academics after some of them participated in a briefing to read out a statement titled ‘universities are not military barracks’ calling for academic freedom on 31 October 2015.

Attachack was the academic who read out the statement.

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

On the same day, when pressed by the media about the charges against the lecturers, Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the junta leader and Prime Minister, said “Their activities, if they are not afraid of the law, it’s up to them. If people follow these activities, they will be in trouble. Well, it’s up to them. Some might find guns or bombs to attack them. It’s up to them, but I won’t do that of course.”

On Monday morning, about 300 leading Thai and foreign academics issued a joint statement addressed to the junta leader demanding that the junta stop harassing and intimidating academics.

The letter was accepted by Suksawad Suwannawong, the chief of the people’s service centre of the Prime Minister's Office.

At the event, Anusorn Unno, a lecturer from the Humanities Faculty of Thammasat University, read out the joint statement to the junta leader.

“We maintain that universities are not military barracks, but a place of knowledge to exchange and debate with logic and facts,” read Anusorn. “We maintain that Thailand is not a concentration camp. Thai people have different political thoughts and beliefs.”

According to Prachatham News, Glyn T. Davies, the current US Ambassador to Thailand, expressed concerns about academic freedom in Thailand at the Global Entrepreneurship Week in Chiang Mai on 20 November 2015.

“We are concerned about the summons issued against academics. Freedom of expression and of assembly will make Thailand stronger when people can talk, express opinions, and cultivate from it for future of the country,” Prachatham quoted the American ambassador as saying.