New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement on Wednesday calling on Thai authorities to drop charges against a prominent academic and four conference participants for violating the military junta’s ban on public assembly at a conference recently held at Chiang Mai University.
“Government censorship and military surveillance have no place at an academic conference,” said Brad Adams, HRW Asia director. “By prosecuting a conference organiser and participants, the Thai junta is showing the world its utter contempt for academic freedom and other liberties.”
Since the 13th International Conference on Thai Studies, which was held at CMU from July 15 to 18, at least four academics have been summoned by the police after displaying banners saying “this was not a military camp, but an academic forum”.
Chayan Vaddhanaphuti, director of CMU’s Regional Centre for Social Science and Sustainable Development, is the latest to be called upon by the police for alleged violation of a ban on political gatherings or activities. He initially planned to meet the police on August 23, the Transborder News online news agency reported on Tuesday.
Chayan was quoted as saying that he had not asked for permission from the military to organise the event in the first place, as it was academic-based. It was probably the banners that were displayed at the event that had prompted the latest call from the police, he acknowledged.
Chayan insisted, however, that no political activities had been held at the four-day conference, despite what he was being accused of, so he had no idea why he had been summoned. He added that he had consulted the Chiang Mai governor about the event, and that the governor had even presided over it.
HRW said that since the military-installed government took power after the May 2014 coup, Thai authorities have frequently forced the cancellation of community meetings, academic panels, issue seminars and public forums on political matters, especially issues related to dissent towards NCPO policies or the state of human rights in Thailand.
Frequently, these repressive interventions were based on the NCPO’s ban on public gatherings of more than five people, and orders outlawing public criticisms of any aspect of military rule, the group noted.
“Academics worldwide should call for the trumped-up charges against Professor Chayan and the four conference attendees to be dropped immediately,” Adams said. “Thailand faces a dim future if speech is censored, academic criticism is punished, and political discussions are banned even inside a university.”