Thammasat lecturers have accused the university's administrators of unfairly dismissing noted Thammasat historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul earlier this week, amidst a denial by its rector, Somkid Lertpaitoon, that the move was politically motivated.
Somsak, a leading critic of lese-majeste law, failed to return to Thailand to resume his teaching after fleeing the country in the aftermath of last year’s coup, when he was summoned by the National Council for Peace and Order and also faced arrest under the lese-majeste law.
“The decision [to dismiss Somsak] was unjust,” Thammasat economist Assoc Prof Pichit Likitkijsomboon said yesterday, adding that Somsak had fled the Kingdom because of the coup and a threat to his life, as even before the putsch, his house had been attacked by an unknown gunman.
The university administrators should not, therefore, regard this as an intention not to work, he argued.
“The administrators have the duty to protect freedom of expression. University is not elementary or high school … It’s apparent that university administrators are ready to use legal means to threaten those who have differing political opinions,” said Pichit.
Thammasat political scientist Pongkwan Sawasdipakdi also believes the decision to fire Somsak was politically motivated.
“One can look at it as an attempt to set an example for other [academics] who come out to make a [pro-democracy] move. It’s likely about his political stance,” she said.
Vipar Daomanee, a former lecturer at Thammasat and a supporter of Somsak, said she could not believe that the administrators had resorted to such a tactic, adding that she viewed the matter as politically motivated.
Somkid insisted yesterday that he had signed an order firing Somsak on Monday not because of Somsak’s political stance, or because he was targeted under the lese-majeste law, but because he had failed to report to work for more than 15 consecutive days.
The rector added that two disciplinary committees had been set up before the decision was taken that the historian had abandoned his post.
He said Somsak could, however, appeal the decision within 30 days of the order to dismiss him having been issued.
Posting on his Facebook account in exile in France on Tuesday, Somsak said he had tried to seek sabbatical leave and later asked to resign his position, but these requests had been denied.
He added that fleeing Thailand was a matter of principle, as he could not accept the legitimacy of the military junta, which staged the coup last May, summoned him and subsequently issued an arrest warrant against him for allegedly violating lese-majeste law.
“I have the necessity and legitimate right to protect my life and liberty by not consenting to the military junta, which seized power like those committing high treason, to arrest and harm me,” Somsak argued in the posting.