Exiled academic Somsak not guilty of absence: Administrative Court

An officer of the Administrative Court has said that Somsak Jeamteerasakul, the embattled lèse majesté critic and ex-Thammasat lecturer in self-imposed exile, is not guilty of being absent without leave because he faced grave danger.

A government commissioner of the Central Administrative Court on Tuesday, 1 March 2016, said that Somsak Jeamteerasakul, 56, a former lecturer at the Faculty of Liberal Arts at Thammasat University, is not guilty of leaving his post when he fled from Thailand to France in the aftermath of the 2014 May coup d’état.

In February 2015, Somkit Lertpaithoon, the Rector of Thammasat University, signed an order to end the civil service employment of Somsak as he had at that time been absent from the university for about nine months.

The order was finalised despite the fact that Somsak had requested leave of absence from 1 August 2014 to 31 July 2015 to pursue academic activities overseas, which is possible according to the university’s rules. The request was approved by the dean of the Faculty of Liberal Arts of Thammasat, but was rejected by Somkit.

In March 2015, Somsak submitted an appeal to the Office of the Higher Education Commission (OHCE) of the Education Ministry against the decision to dismiss him.

Today, the government commissioner of the Central Administrative Court said that Somsak was facing grave danger to his life and liberty, which caused him to flee overseas.

Moreover, Somsak request for absence was permitted by the faculty head and he also issued his resignation letter right after the order to call him back was issued. Therefore, the order to sack him is unlawful, said the commissioner.   

According to Pawinee Chumsri, an attorney from Thai lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), although the commissioner said that Somsak is not guilty, the final verdict on the case will be made by Central Administrative Court judges.

Somsak is known for his active role in criticizing Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lèse majesté law, and encouraging reform of the Thai monarchy. He himself faces lèse majesté charges filed by the Army and countless acts of intimidation, including gunfire at his house.

Last week, the Thai police announced that they are considering further lèse majesté charges against Somsak together with the Thai PBS channel, the only public TV channel in Thailand, over a talk programme called Tob Jod (The Answers).

On 11-14 March and 18 March 2013, Tob Jod broadcast a series of discussions on the controversial lèse majesté law. Apart from Somsak, the programme featured Sulak Sivaraksa, an anti-lèse majesté law royalist, Surakiart Sathirathai, former Deputy Prime Minister, and Pol Gen Vasit Dejkunchorn. The show was hosted by Pinyo Trisuriyathamma.

After Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha overthrew the government on 22 May 2014, the historian fled the country to Europe. Somsak is also an expert on the killing of King Ananda.

If Somsak is found guilty in the case, he will not be entitled to receive a pension after teaching at Thammasat for 20 years.

Somsak Jeamteerasakul (file photo)