Ministry to summon universities over 8 lecturers offering bail for students

Jak Punchoopet, Advisor to the Minister of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation (MHESI) said on Tuesday that the Ministry is preparing to summon deans and chancellors of the universities of 8 lecturers who offered bail to 3 student activists detained while awaiting trial for royal defamation and other charges.

The Network submitting a petition to the MHESI representatives, Duangrit Benjathikul Chairungruang and Jak Punchoopet (Source: Facebook/ Center for People Protecting the Monarchy).

According to Matichon, the statement was made after the Vocational Students and People’s Network to Protect the Monarchy submitted a petition to Prof Anek Laothamatas, the MHESI Minister, urging him to investigate the lecturers’ ethics. The Network claims that their bail requests for Panusaya Sitthijirawattanakul, Parit Chiwarak and Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, students at Thammasat and Mahidol universities, constitute behaviour that infringes upon the monarchy.

The 8 lecturers submitted bail requests on 12 March, the first for Panusaya and Jatupat and the fifth for Parit. The court denied the requests, reiterating the reasons given for the previous denials, regarding the gravity of the charges, the severe penalties and the repeated commission of the same offence after previous temporary releases. 

The Network’s leading figure said the action of the 8 lecturers is unethical for teachers as they are protecting students who have clearly and publicly defamed and infringed upon the King, Queen and the Chakri dynasty, which the Network has denounced. If the 3 are found guilty, will the lecturers reflect on their actions and take responsibility by resigning or not?

Duangrit Benjathikul Chairungruang, the Ministry Spokesperson and Secretary to the Minister, said the Ministry has prepared to appoint a committee to review the issue and is ready to be fair to every side by upholding the country’s law.

Jak, who in the past, participated in the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) movement which led to the military coup in 2014, also said to the Network’s leader that the Minister is not sitting idly by at what has happened and confirmed that academic freedom must not infringe on the institution of the monarchy.

According to the 2020 Academic Freedom Index (AFi) published on 11 March 2021 by the non-profit think tank Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi) and the Scholars At Risk network, Thailand was graded E, the lowest grade, with a score of 0.13 out of a maximum of 1.  Other countries with and E grade include China, North Korea, Cuba, Lao, Iran, Rwanda, and South Sudan. 

Among other ASEAN countries, Cambodia and Vietnam were graded D, Malaysia and Singapore C, and Indonesia B.

The report was published the first time this year. The publisher urges other ranking institutions to include academic freedom into their ranking rubric.

2021 seems to be the year where legal prosecutions have caught up with the pro-democracy movement which surged significantly after July 2020, demanding political and monarchy reform. Public discussions and speeches regarding the monarchy were more widespread than ever seen before in Thai society where Section 112 of the Criminal Code criminalizes defamation of the King, Queen, Heir and Regent and mandates 3-15 year prison sentences.  The Section has been used heavily since late last year.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported that as of 15 March, at least 70 people have been charged under Section 112 in 60 cases. 26 cases were filed by ordinary citizens, 4 by the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society and the rest by the police. 4 people who were charged are under the age of 18.

On 8 March, TLHR reported on Facebook that 18 people are now in detention pending trial regarding the pro-democracy protests and royal defamation charges, which international human rights organizations see as a violation of the presumption of innocence.

In March, Amnesty International released a statement claiming that the mass prosecutions, amounting to 382 protest leaders and demonstrators in 207 cases since 2020, were tantamount to systematic suppression of freedom. 

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