SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: September 18, 2014

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Other

Institution(s):Thammasat University

Region & Country:Southeastern Asia | Thailand

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On September 18, 2014, Thai authorities interrupted a public forum on democracy at Thammasat University’s Rangsit campus titled “The Fall of Dictatorships,” and detained a group of academics and students who had organized the event.
Prior to the event, military authorities had reportedly circulated a letter demanding that the event be cancelled, on the grounds that such events “could affect the government’s attempts to fix national problems” and produce “rifts in society.”  In addition, authorities had reportedly instructed university administrators to make the room where the forum was scheduled to be held unavailable; the university complied, but student organizers responded by moving the forum into another location on campus.  More than 100 people reportedly attended.
After the event had been underway for roughly 30 minutes, police and military officers entered and took into custody four of the academic speakers – historian Niddhi Eoseewong, political science lecturers Janjira Sombatpoonsiri and Prajak Kongkirati, and liberal arts lecturer Chaowarit Chaosangrat – as well as three students who had organized the event.  The professors and students were taken to a local police station, where they were reportedly interrogated for a few hours and then released, without being charged with any crime.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about arbitrary detention of scholars and students in retaliation for their peaceful exercise of the right to free expression and association – conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Scholars at Risk is also concerned about state attempts to cancel or intervene in peaceful on-campus events, or to otherwise limit academic or political expression or freedom of association on campus.  State authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with such activities, so long as they are undertaken peacefully and responsibly.  In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, state actions limiting the rights to free academic expression or association have a chilling effect on academic freedom and university autonomy, and undermine democratic society generally.