In August 2017, Chulalongkorn University (CU) officials reportedly retaliated against eight student-activists for engaging in a peaceful protest during a student ceremony, by deducting the students’ “behavior points”—a punishment that effectively stripped at five of them of their positions on CU’s Student Council.
On August 3, CU held its annual initiation ceremony for first-year students, during which students are required to prostrate themselves on the ground before a statue of King Rama V, the late king of Thailand and founder of CU. Moments after the students laid on the ground, eight students—including Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, a prominent pro-democracy student-activist and president of the student council—walked out on the field where the ceremony was taking place and silently bowed before the statue to demonstrate to the first-year students that “there are different ways to pay respect to the [king].” The students were quickly removed; photos indicate that CU’s assistant rector dragged one student away in a headlock.
Following the incident, CU’s administration deducted 25 behavior points from the eight students for allegedly violating five articles provided by the university’s regulations on student discipline, including:
Article 4: “Students must always strictly follow all laws, rules, regulations, announcements or orders of the University or their faculty”
Article 5: “Students must follow Thai good moral, ethical and cultural principles on all occasions”
Article 6: “Students must maintain unity, orderliness and the University’s image and prestige”
Article 7: “Students must behave themselves gently and not behave in ways that may damage themselves, their parents, their guardians, or the University”
Article 12: “Students must not perform any tradition or practice deemed inappropriate to Thai culture.”
On August 31, 2017, as a result of the behavior point deduction, five of the students, including Mr. Chotiphatphaisal, were ordered for removal from their seats on CU’s student council. Mr. Chotiphatphaisal has stated that he will appeal the university’s decision.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about disproportionate disciplinary actions against students in retaliation for the peaceful exercise of the right to academic freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of association – conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally. Universities have a responsibility to refrain from wrongful disciplinary action taken against students for exercising their rights to academic freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of association.