Civil Court to rule on lawsuit against academic, Same Sky Books on 30 November

The Civil Court said on Tuesday (9 November) that it will issue a ruling on 30 November in a lawsuit filed against historian Nattapol Chaiching and his publisher, Same Sky Books for producing two books based on Nattapol’s PhD thesis about Thai politics during the Cold War period.

Nattapol Chaiching

The lawsuit was filed by Mom Rajawongse Priyanandana Rangsit, a granddaughter of Rangsit Prayurasakdi, Prince of Chai Nat.  She alleges that Nattapol’s books “Dream the Impossible Dream” (“ขอฝันใฝ่ในฝันอันเหลือเชื่อ”) and “The Junta, the Lords, and the Eagle” (“ขุนศึก ศักดินา พญาอินทรี”) contain misleading information about her grandfather, damaging his reputation.

MR Priyanandana is suing for a compensation of 50 million baht. She initially asked the Court for a temporary injunction stopping the circulation of both books, but later withdrew her request, noting that there was no point to a temporary injunction as the books have been widely circulated. She is also suing Nattapol’s PhD thesis supervisor, former Faculty of Political Science lecturer Kullada Kesboonchoo Mead; Chaithawat Tulathon, editor for “Dream the Impossible Dream”; Anchalee Maneeroj, editor for “The Junta, the Lords, and the Eagle”; Same Sky Books, the publisher of both volumes; and Same Sky Books editor-in-chief Thanapol Eawsakul.

Kullada issued an open letter before the hearing saying that the lawsuit against her, as Nattapol’s PhD supervisor, violates freedom of expression and academic freedom and would have a strong effect on academic circles. She added that a thesis examination panel has already examined Nattapol’s thesis, passing it with distinction, and that it is an academic work which is open for debate.

Kullada called upon Chulalongkorn University to adhere to the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression.  However, instead of protecting her as she performed her official duties, Kullada said that the university formed a committee to investigate her supervision of Nattapol’s thesis.

“This case is therefore a fight to preserve academic freedom, especially for thesis supervisors.  It is a universally held principle that a thesis is the responsibility of the person who wrote it,” said Kullada’s open letter.

Kullada Kesboonchoo Mead

Nattapol completed his PhD at the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University in 2009. His thesis, titled “Thai Politics in Phibun’s Government Under the U.S. World Order (1948-1957),” explores US intervention in Thailand during the period leading up to the 1957 military coup led by Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat.

Chulalongkorn University, the institution where Nattapol completed his PhD and the copyright holder of his thesis, was originally also listed as a defendant in the lawsuit, but the Court dismissed the suit on the ground that the university is not connected to the case.

According to Same Sky Books, Chulalongkorn University has already suspended the circulation of Nattapol’s thesis, which currently cannot be found in the university’s research repository.

An article by Thongchai Winichakul and Tyrell Haberkorn, published on the New Mandala website, noted that Nattapol’s thesis contained a error construed by “some (royalist) academics and the Rangsit clan” as “seriously damaging to the monarchy.”  It asserted that the Prince of Chai Nat as regent interfered with the government by attending cabinet meetings. The article also notes that “The Junta, the Lords, and the Eagle” contains extensive revisions and does not have the mistake.

In his thesis, Nattapol cited a Bangkok Post article from 18 December 1950 which reported that the Prince of Chai Nat had been frequently attending cabinet meetings, a move which was said to have upset the then-Prime Minister Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram. Bangkok Post has denied that it ever reported this information.

In 2018, Chaiyan Chaiyaporn, lecturer at the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, demanded that Nattapol’s thesis be revised to remove the mistake. He also allegedly accused Nattapol of falsifying the information to damage the monarchy and demanded that he be punished. The New Mandala article also said that Chaiyan allegedly threatened Nattapol with a royal defamation charge, but that Chaiyan denied this allegation.

A 2018 investigation by the thesis examination committee and the Faculty of Political Science found that the mistake was unintentional. Nattapol requested the Chulalongkorn Graduate School to allow him to revise his thesis, but his request was denied.

In 2021, Same Sky Books also published ia revised version of “Dream the Impossible Dream,” in which the text has been amended, removing the aforementioned mistake. The publisher also said that the mistake was unintentional and does not affect the overall content of the book. Those who purchased the 1st edition of the book are also welcomed to exchange their copy for the revised version free of charge.

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