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: August 14, 2017

Attack Types: Prosecution

Institution(s):Chiang Mai University

Region & Country:Southeastern Asia | Thailand

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On August 14, 2017, five academics in Thailand were summoned to report to police authorities, apparently based on their attendance at an academic conference, and for expression during that conference. 

Chiang Mai University hosted the 13th International Conference on Thai Studies on July 15-18. During the conference, plainclothes police and military officials reportedly monitored sessions that included discussions that were critical of the Thai political system, and photographed speakers. In response, a group of 176 Thai and foreign academics reportedly issued a statement calling on the ruling military government to restore free expression and related rights in Thailand. After the statement was issued, a group of four conference attendees was photographed holding up a sign that said “an academic forum is not a military barrack.” 

These four attendees, along with the conference organizer, have been summoned to report to the Chang Phuak Police Station in Chiang Mai by August 21, 2017. They stand accused of violating Head of the NCPO Order No. 3/2558, which bans political gatherings of five or more persons. The individuals charged are: conference organizer Chayan Vaddhanaphuti, Associate Professor and Director, Regional Center for Sustainable Development, Chiang Mai University; Chaipong Samnieng, Ph.D. Candidate and Lecturer, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Chiang Mai University; Teeramon Buangam, M.A. Candidate, Faculty of Mass Communication, Chiang Mai University, and Editor, Prachaham News; Nontawat Machai, undergraduate student, Faculty of Mass Communication, Chiang Mai University; and Pakavadi Veerapaspong, independent writer and translator. If convicted, they are subject to imprisonment of up to six months, a fine of up to 10,000 baht (roughly USD $300), or both.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the prosecution of scholars in retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the 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 of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand is a party. State authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with scholars’ expressive activity, so long as that activity is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. Prosecution aimed at limiting such expressive activity undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.