Back in May 2016, we posted on a call by Professor Thongchai Winichakul, made at New Mandala, for academics and conference organizers to think carefully about the consequences of holding academic conferences in Thailand under the military dictatorship.
There was a pathetic response from the International Convention of Asian Scholars (ICAS), seemingly misunderstanding the situation in Thailand.
New Mandala also published a response from Professor Chayan Vaddhanaphuti on behalf of the Organising Committee of the 13th International Conference on Thai Studies (ICTS13). The critical point in Chayan’s post at that time was his confirmation that any academically-qualified paper will be accepted, no matter what the topic, but that his Committee could “not guarantee the safety of presenters whom the government at the time of the conference deems to have breached Thai laws.”
Those laws are interpreted very harshly by the junta.
This debate has been re-opened with another call for a boycott from Andrew MacGregor Marshall.
Our view is that those who attend are in danger, just as Thai academics who dare challenge the junta have been since the 2014 coup.
The organizers at ICAS should be ashamed of themselves.
Marshall’s message to TLC: Thailand, Laos, Cambodia Studies Association:
In view of the worsening human rights situation in Thailand,and the efforts by the junta to prevent Thais having any contact with Somsak Jeamteerasakul and Pavin Chachavalpongpun, two of the most respected and courageous Thai academics, I would like to call on the organisers of the International Conference on Thai Studies in Chiang Mai in July to change the venue of the event to a location outside Thailand where people can speak more freely.
Holding this event in Thailand in the current circumstances would be absurd and would send totally the wrong message. Nobody who genuinely values academic freedom can credibly claim that this event could have any value if it goes ahead in Thailand. The only people who would benefit are the junta, who could exploit the conference to pretend that for academics in Thailand it is business as usual.
If the organisers refuse to change the venue of the event, I urge all scholars to boycott the conference. This is a moment in Thai history when academics need to stand up and do the right thing. There is no excuse for holding a fake conference in Chiang Mai when the academics who could contribute the most are being persecuted and threatened and cannot participate.
Update: We left out an important word above, now included and highlighted.