Khon Kaen University accuses anti-junta activists of breaking Referendum Act

After unsuccessfully trying to bar anti-junta youth activists from holding a talk on the upcoming referendum on the junta-sponsored draft charter, university staff have accused the activists of breaking the controversial Referendum Act.

Staff of Khon Kaen University and local Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) officials on Sunday, 31 July 2016, filed a complaint at Khon Kaen’s Mueang District Police Station against anti-junta youth activists from the New Democracy Movement (NDM), some of whom are students and alumni of Khon Kaen University, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported.

The University staff and ECT officials accused the activists of trespassing into a public building without permission to hold a public discussion called ‘Talk for Freedom’ on the draft constitution, and violation of the controversial Public Referendum Act.

On Saturday before the talk, Jirawat Sanitchon, Deputy Dean of Khon Kaen University’s Faculty of Agriculture, attempted to bar the activists from hosting the event, reasoning that the talk could make the institution seem ‘politically biased’.

After the activists refused to concede to the order, university staff cut off the electricity and water supply to the building on Saturday afternoon, so the activists had to use a generator to continue their activity.

They decided to stay overnight at the venue as they were worried that the university might take back the venue once they left.

During the discussion on Sunday, many police officers and soldiers intervened and informed them that they were accused of breaking Article 8 of the 2015 Public Assembly Act for using a university building without permission despite the activists’ claim that the University’s Faculty of Agriculture had already given them permission to hold the event and that they had paid the rental fee.

Prior to the talk, the authorities also confiscated flyers and leaflets criticizing the draft constitution published by the NDM and a printed statement against it from Nitirat, a progressive academic law group from Thammasat University.

Under the controversial Article 61 of the Referendum Act, anyone who publishes or distributes content about the draft constitution which deviates from the facts, contains rude and violent language, or threateningly discourages voters from participating in the referendum, could face up to 10 years imprisonment, a fine of up to 200,000 baht and loss of electoral rights for five years.  

 Thai authorities intervene in a public discussion on the draft constitution organized by the NDM at Khon Kaen University on 31 July 2016