Urgent Threats to Academic Freedom in Thailand
Posted January 26, 2018
Scholars at Risk (SAR) is concerned about recent human rights violations in Thailand that threaten academic freedom and the higher education sector more generally, including the prosecutions of Professors Anusorn Unno and Charnvit Kasetsiri in apparent connection with their peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association.
SAR understands that Professor Anusorn, Coordinator of the Thai Academic Network for Civil Rights and Dean of the Faculty of Sociology and Anthropology at Thammasat University, has been charged with violating National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) Order No. 3/2558, which bans public gatherings of five or more persons. The charge stems from his role in co-organizing and participating in ‘We Walk,’ a peaceful march and series of seminars at universities across Thailand to promote civil rights. Professor Anusorn and seven co-defendants have been summoned to report to the police on January 31. If found guilty, they could face up to six months in prison, a fine of 10,000 baht, or both.
In a second case, Mr. Charnvit, a professor of history and former rector of Thammasat University, has been summoned to report to the police on January 31 for allegedly violating Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act. The charge stems from an alleged Facebook post in which Professor Charnvit shared a widely circulated news piece featuring Naraporn Chan-ocha, the wife of NCPO leader Prayut Chan-ocha, carrying what was described as a two-million baht Hermes purse, and commented “Thai leaders must look expensive not cheap.” Government officials denied the story, and the Technology Crime Suppression Division alleged that sharing this content constituted a violation of the Computer Crimes Act. Professor Charnvit has long been publicly critical of the NCPO and a proponent of democracy and human rights issues on social media. If convicted, Charnvit could face up to five years in prison, a 100,000 baht fine, or both.
Absent additional information that may clarify our understanding, these cases suggest a troubling disregard for human rights and deteriorating conditions for members of Thailand’s higher education community and civil society at large to peacefully and safely exercise their rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association, and academic freedom – conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration to Human Rights and the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand is a party.
SAR respectfully urges the relevant state authorities in Thailand to publicly demonstrate their commitment to academic freedom and related human rights by dropping any charges against Professors Anusorn and Charnvit that stem from their nonviolent expressive activities and associations, and ensuring that these cases proceed in manners consistent with Thailand’s obligations under international law, including due process.