On February 9, 2019, Thai immigration officers reportedly briefly held and interrogated Andrew Johnson, a Princeton University professor of anthropology, in apparent connection with his academic work and expressive activities. Immigration officials released Johnson shortly thereafter.
Johnson reportedly visited Thailand to scout a location for a future study on water and urbanism. While attempting to exit the country, authorities allegedly told him that he was required to disclose all the locations he had visited during his stay as well as the names of all those he had spoken with. Authorities allegedly told Johnson that the same information would be demanded of him for all future travel to Thailand. According to Johnson, officers further informed him that his name had been included on a government list of 30 researchers of interest who worked on issues related to “Thai society and culture.”
Johnson’s inclusion on the list is allegedly linked to his having signed a petition demanding that the Thai government drop charges against five academics who had peacefully protested at the 2017 International Conference on Thai Studies in Chiang Mai (see report). While charges against the five protestors have since been dismissed, authorities reportedly continue to monitor many of the 300 petition signatories. Some signatories reportedly claim that they have been detained numerous times entering or exiting Thailand.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about threats by border authorities in apparent response to acts of nonviolent free expression — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand is a party. State authorities have a responsibility to protect academic freedom and not to interfere with academic activity, so long as it is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, travel restrictions intended to impede academic activity have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.