On May 26, 2023, Gulf Energy, a Thai energy development company, brought a defamation suit against financial academic Sarinee Achavanuntakul after Achavanuntakul posted a message on Facebook alleging that the company may have fraudulently won an independent power producer bid.
Achavanuntakel – a former investment banker who has produced papers on capital markets, microfinance, and sustainability – posted a Facebook message on April 19 about rising electricity costs and corporate monopolies over power. The post was based on her research and included excerpts from an article that she wrote and published on The Momentum, a Thai media outlet. A few weeks later, Gulf Energy responded by suing her, and she was charged with criminal defamation – she received respective summonses in the two actions on May 26 and 27. In the civil action, Gulf Energy demanded 100 million Baht (approximately $2,749,746) in damages.
Both parties later reached a compromise, and both the civil and criminal lawsuits were withdrawn.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about private civil legal actions, as well as criminal prosecutions, aimed at retaliating against responsible, nonviolent academic activity — 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 signatory. Even where such civil actions are unsuccessful, their impact can be financially and professionally devastating for their targets, and can chill academic expression across an entire sector. State authorities should thus take measures to prevent such actions. Likewise, prosecutions aimed at criminalizing nonviolent academic activity undermine the rights to academic freedom and freedom of expression. Such civil and criminal actions undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.