KHON KAEN UNIVERSITY denied a request to host an academic seminar on the last day of the “We Walk” long march tomorrow to protect the university’s reputation, while the Supreme Administrative Court ruled in favour of the marchers’ rights to freedom of expression and protest.
The court yesterday ordered police to facilitate the We Walk protest march and respect their constitutional rights to protest and freedom of expression until the walk ends this Saturday, reaffirming the Administrative Court order issued last month to let police facilitate the protesters.
The secretary-general of the Environmental Litigation and Advocacy for the Wants (EnLAW) Foundation, Surachai Trongngam, yesterday stated that the Supreme Administrative Court had assured the people’s right to protest in its protection order, as these rights were guaranteed by both the Constitution and the international accords on citizens’ rights.
Surachai said this was because the court had considered efforts by authorities to intimidate march participants and others who were facilitating the event. Believing that the intimidation would continue, the court had ordered police to protect the participants and facilitate their peaceful walk.
The People Go Network on January 20 began their We Walk march at Thammasat University in Pathum Thani and will this Saturday reach Khon Kaen University, their final destination. Along the route, participants had raised the issues of state welfare, food security, natural resources management, human rights and democracy.
Despite the court order, intimidation of participants and supporters had continued, said Surachai, including unexpected visits by officers to people’s homes and workplaces.
Although the Supreme Administrative Court order applied directly only to police, the confirmation of the right to peaceful protest should be seen to act as a shield against all interference from the authorities, including the military, Surachai said.
Meanwhile, Akekachai Isaratha, a People Go Network representative, criticised Khon Kaen University’s refusal to allow an academic seminar on campus as the march event ended.
“We are very disappointed that the most prominent academic institute in the Northeast … lacks academic freedom,” Akekachai said.
March organisers had proposed a seminar on the topic “The Constitution and public participation in the country’s development”, scheduled to be held at the university tomorrow.
“It is very difficult to understand the university dean’s reason that they have to get permission from Military Circle 23 before allowing the marchers to arrange an academic seminar inside the university,” said Akekachai.
The university is a public space and should always be open to expression of academic freedom, he said.
Khon Kaen University assistant dean Sompong Sitthiphrom said the school had to deny the request from People Go Network, because they had asked for a political gathering inside the university, which is against the NCPO’s orders. Sompong said the university grounds were under the rule of the NCPO.
Khon Kaen University dean Piansak Phakdee said the university ground was not a public space, but an educational institution, so activities inside the university should be for and about education promotion only. Hosting the seminar would damage the university’s reputation, he added.