Open Letter Calling for Intellectual Freedom in Thailand

As scholars of Thai Studies located outside the country, we have watched with deepening apprehension as the space for the free exchange of ideas has dwindled in Thailand since the 19 September 2006 coup. This constriction of thought and speech has intensified since the violence of April-May 2010, with the notable examples of the detention of Dr. Suthachai Yimprasert, assistant professor of history at Chulalongkorn University, by the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation in April 2010, the charges filed against Mr. Giles Ji Ungpakorn for the alleged crime of lesè majesté, and the ongoing case against Ms. Chiranuch Premchaiporn, Prachatai webmaster.

In the last weeks, Dr. Somsak Jeamteerasakul, associate professor of history at Thammasat University, has joined those who have faced threats for criticizing the state, the monarchy, and the relation between them. We wish to express our grave concern over the recent harassment and threats made against Dr. Somsak Jeamteerasakul. 

The intimidation of Dr. Suthachai, Mr. Giles, Ms. Chiranuch, and now Dr. Somsak, as well as countless ordinary citizens, is symptomatic of a broader set of practices which gravely threaten the exercise of rights and the future of democracy in Thailand. What is now clear is that dissent is not going to disappear from the Thai polity, no matter what repressive measures the state chooses to take. Those in power must realize that discussion and criticism – not blind loyalty – are necessary in a functioning democracy.

We stand with our colleagues in the Santi Prachatham Network and call for an immediate end to the threats against Dr. Somsak and an end to broader practices of constriction of speech.

Signed,

Dr. Michael K. Connors, La Trobe University
Dr. Nancy Eberhardt, Knox College
Dr. Nicholas Farrelly, Australian National University
Dr. Arnika Fuhrmann, Hong Kong University
Dr. Jim Glassman, University of British Columbia
Dr. Tyrell Haberkorn, Australian National University
Dr. Kevin Hewison, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
Dr. CJ Hinke, Freedom Against Censorship Thailand
Dr. Soren Ivarsson, University of Copenhagen
Dr. Andrew Johnson, Sogang University
Dr. Tomas Larsson, Cambridge University
Dr. Charles Keyes, University of Washington
Mr. Samson Lim, Cornell University
Dr. Tamara Loos, Cornell University
Dr. Mary Beth Mills, Colby College
Ms. Nattakant Akarapongpisak, Australian National University
Dr. Craig Reynolds, Australian National University
Mr. Andrew Spooner, Nottingham Trent University
Mr. Sing Suwannakij, University of Copenhagen
Dr. Michelle Tan, Independent Scholar, USA
Mr. Giles Ji Ungpakorn, Independent Scholar, UK
Dr. Andrew Walker, Australian National University
Dr. Thongchai Winichakul, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Mr. Kritdikorn Wongswangpanich, Aberystwyth University
Dr. Adadol Ingawanij, University of Wesminster, UK.
Dr. Rachel V Harrison, University of London

I find the letter lacking as

I find the letter lacking as a universal condemnation the offense which Article 112 (Lese Majeste) inflicts on the Thai body politic - perhaps this was not the intent. Indeed, the ideas in the letter are necessary and important now, but it stops short of calling for the out-right repeal of Article 112 – why? Article 112 provides the legal underpinning for all of the problems of constriction of speech and of free ideas in Thailand as noted in the letter. Was this an intentional omission, or simply an oversight by those signatory to the letter?

Similarly, the letter does not discuss the recent up-tick in Article 112 cases and threats toward Thai politicians. Nor does it address the Army’s recent call for wider scrutiny of websites and community radio stations regarding Article 112 violations (Wall Street Journal, April 19, 2011). These, too, represent grave threats to Thai freedoms of expression, no more and no less than to university professors and scholars.

It is understandable that Thai scholars would react strongly to threats on their colleagues. But Article 112 is exercised against anyone within Thai jurisdiction - even people not actually in Thailand. Those who oppose Article 112 must be unequivocal in that opposition.