U of Malaya lecturer detained at immigration again

Rosenun Chesof, a lecturer in linguistics at the University of Malaya, told Thai Lawyers for Human Rights that she was detained again at immigration while travelling to and from Thailand last week.   

A group of academics reading a statement on academic freedom, one of the statements which stemmed from the Thai Studies Conference case

On 9 August, Rosenun passed through immigration at the Immigration Checkpoint in Betong, Yala. She told the immigration officer that she has issues with her name being flagged because it was on a list. The office tried to ask her what blacklist she is on, but she said it was not a blacklist. The officer checked and found that her name is still flagged, causing the officer’s computer to lock down and not allow her entry. The officer had to contact Pol Col Somkiat Kaeowiset of Special Branch Division 2, who the database said is responsible for the case, but was not able to contact him. The immigration officer finally contacted the Special Branch Office, who allowed Rosenun entry into the country. Nevertheless, she had to wait around half an hour.

On 13 August, Rosenun left the country through the Betong Immigration Checkpoint, and found that her name was still flagged. Once again, the immigration officer was unable to contact Pol Col Somkiat, and Rosenun had to wait before she was able to pass through immigration.

The officer told Rosenun that if her name is still flagged, the Immigration Bureau may not allow her entry into the country, and that because she is Muslim and from the Deep South, she might be subjected to more surveillance than others. The officer then told Rosenun to complain to the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre to solve the issue.

Rosenun was among the scholars who signed the petition supporting the four protestors who were charged with ‘holding an unlawful political gathering’ after they were photographed at the 13th International Thai Studies Conference at Chiang Mai University holding a banner stating that “an academic seminar is not a military base,” protesting the heavy-handed surveillance of the event by both uniformed and plainclothes officers. The case was subsequently dismissed in December 2018.

However, other researchers also reported being similarly kept under surveillance and questioned. Earlier this year, Andrew Johnson, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University, was temporarily detained by the Thai Immigration Police upon leaving Thailand on 10 February 2019. Rosenun herself has so far been detained at immigration 12 times since August 2018. Philip Hirsch, a visiting scholar at Chiang Mai University, has been questioned on what he was doing in Thailand, and the University had to issue him a letter of reference. However, Hirsch has never had issues travelling to and from Thailand.

Scholar detained at immigration; possible link to Thai Studies Conference case

Rosenun told TLHR that she feels uneasy about being under surveillance, and has a lot of trouble travelling to and from Thailand. Immigration officers often look at her as if she has done something wrong, or as if she is a criminal. Officers have tried to question her about what she has done and if she has committed any crime, and she has to explain what happened.  Even though the Thai Studies Conference case has already been dismissed, academics are still facing this issue, and she knows that there are several foreign academics who are also similarly questioned, but most don’t travel to Thailand very often.

Rosenun said that she is considering filing a complaint with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other relevant authorities to investigate the issue, since it is likely that she will continue to have trouble passing through Thai immigration.