Readers might have imagined that the profoundly ludicrous charges against academics and students from Chiang Mai University may have slipped away into nothingness. However, the military junta seems intent on harassing these persons with a view to silencing other academics and deadening academic discussion within Thailand. So the ridiculousness continues.
The last we remember of this case was that in August 2017, when the Army brought charges against Prof Chayan Vaddhanaphuti, director of the Regional Centre for Social Science and Sustainable Development at Chiang Mai University, Pakawadee Veerapatpong, Chaipong Samnieng, Nontawat Machai and Thiramon Bua-ngam. They met Chang Phuak police and were fingerprinted.
These persons attended and organized the International Conference on Thai Studies at Chiang Mai University in July 2017. They all denied charges brought against them, which seemed to be something to do with breaching the junta’s ban on political assembly. Human Rights Watch referred to the charges as bogus.
Of course, the 13th International Conference on Thai Studies was not a political meeting but an academic meeting. It was the military junta that politicized it by provocatively sending uniformed and plainclothes police and military officers to snoop and spy on the event, apparently looking for any topic or even a few words that might offend military and monarchy.
It was this snooping, spying and efforts to censor that saw those charged and others protest the heavy-handed surveillance of the 13th International Thai Studies Conference.
According to Amnesty International, two academics, two students and a writer were charged last week. The charge is “holding an unlawful political gathering…”.
These absurd charges would be laughable were it not for the potentially grave consequences for those involved, and what they say about the parlous state of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in Thailand…. All these students and academics did was make a peaceful, satirical comment about the heavy military presence at a university conference. For this, they could face up to six months in jail under a repressive decree introduced by the military government. Pushing this case through the judicial system highlights the crippling measures authorities are instituting to silence academics and gag any form of dissent.
Further, AI calls on the military junta to “drop these ridiculous charges and repeal the military decree that outlaws peaceful public assemblies of five or more persons. They must also put an end to the prosecutions, harassment and surveillance of academics, activists and intellectuals that has blighted the country since the coup.”
As far as we can tell, in strict terms of the junta’s decree banning public assembly, these five cannot even be considered to have come together as five and to have engaged in a political assembly. But legal facts have never prevented the junta from using “law” for harassment and repression.
At the at Chiang Mai University in July 2017, members of the group held up a banner stating in Thai that “An academic seminar is not a military base,” alluding to the by security forces in uniform and plainclothes.