On January 14, 2022, Thai police arrested two Chiang Mai University (CMU) students peacefully protesting outside an on-campus graduation ceremony.
On January 11, the CMU Student Union Policy Team announced via Facebook a boycott of the upcoming graduation ceremony, which was to be presided over by Thai royal family member Princess Sirindhorn. University graduation ceremonies in Thailand are traditionally presided over by a member of the royal family and include a reception ceremony at which students and faculty pay their respects to the royal family. The student union stated that welcoming a member of the royal family at a graduation ceremony would show support for “feudalism” and criticized the tradition of the reception ceremony as outdated and symbolizing oppression and inequality.
On January 14, CMU student activists Yotsunthon Ruttapradid and Phimchanok Jaihong, both members of the pro-democracy group Thalufa, gathered outside the auditorium where they held banners calling for a boycott of the ceremony and called for the repeal of Thailand’s lèse-majesté law, which criminalizes defaming, insulting, or threatening the royal family.
Police, including plainclothes officers, approached the students during their protest and demanded that they stop. After explaining to the officers why they were protesting, Yotsunthon and Phimchanok were arrested and taken into custody. According to Prachatai, the students were charged with “creating noise without a reasonable cause” and “refusing to comply with an official’s order;” however, they claim that the officers did not inform them of the charges at the time of the arrest. The two were later released from the San Kamphaeng Police Station after paying a fine. Police defended their decision to charge the students with noise disruption on the basis that the campus was considered “royal space” during the graduation ceremony.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest of students in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly — 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 an obligation to refrain from restricting expressive activity, so long as it is nonviolent and responsible. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, detentions intended to restrict nonviolent expressive activity on campus undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.