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: July 08, 2019

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances

Institution(s):Kyoto University

Region & Country:Eastern Asia | Japan

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On July 8, 2019, and unidentified individual reportedly carried out an apparently politically-motivated attack on Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai scholar at Japan’s Kyoto University.

According to Chachavalpongpun, a masked individual wearing all black broke into his home at approximately 4:45 AM on July 8. The assailant entered his bedroom, where he and his partner were sleeping, pulled down the sheets, and sprayed the two with a chemical substance before fleeing. Chachavalpongpun told Al-Jazeera that the spray resulted in a burning sensation on his chest that lasted 48 hours.

Chachavalpongpun, an associate professor at Kyoto University’s Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, specializes in Thailand’s monarchy, military, and politics. He is a well-known dissident and regularly engages in public commentary on political developments in Thailand.

Chachavalpongpun has previously faced retaliation for his expression and opinions. Shortly after the 2014 junta-led coup d’état, Thai authorities reportedly issued an arrest warrant against Chachavalpongpun, who was then living in Japan, and revoked his passport, forcing the scholar to apply for refugee status. Chachavalpongpun has reported that family members in Bangkok have faced frequent harassment by Thai military personnel due to his academic work and expression. And in April 2017, the Thai government reportedly banned “any online communication” with Chachavalpongpun and two other critics of the government.

Immediately after the attack, Chachavalpongpun notified police, but did not discuss it publicly until August 2019. The scholar has accused the Thai royal palace of orchestrating the attack, citing other overseas critics of the Thai government who have reportedly disappeared in recent years. As of this report, the Japanese police continue to carry out an investigation into the July 8 attack.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about a violent, targeted attack on a scholar in apparent retaliation for peaceful expression and opinions. State authorities have a responsibility to take reasonable steps to prevent and respond to such attacks, including by carrying out investigations and holding perpetrators responsible. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such attacks undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.