NCPO Defends Ban On Political Academic Discussions

Police interrupt and cancel a discussion on the status of human rights in Thailand held at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand, 2 Sept 2014.

BANGKOK — Thailand’s military junta has reiterated its ban on all political activities, including academic discussions, and moved to block another forum organised by academics at Chiang Mai University.

"All activities related to politics must be held off for now," Col. Winthai Suvaree, spokesperson of the junta's National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), said at a press conference yesterday.

Last week the military interrupted a panel on the "Demise of Foreign Dictators" at Thammasat University and briefly detained four professors and three students, including the prominent historian Nidhi Eoseewong.

Col. Winthai said the military has also canceled an academic discussion titled "Happiness and Reconciliation Under 2014 Interim Constitution” that was scheduled to take place at Chiang Mai University this Thursday.

"Because of the nation's atmosphere at the moment, we don't want to see any gatherings or activities that may be related to politics," Col. Winthai said. "If any agency wants to propose or complain about any issue to the government, they should submit a letter to Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, Prime Minister and NCPO chairman."

He added, "We don't want to see the use of any other channels that could cause divisions in society."

After staging a coup four months ago, the NCPO banned all forms of political expression and public protests. Many of the those who violated the prohibition are now facing trials in military court.

Yesterday, 60 academics from 16 universities across Thailand signed an open letter condemning the cancellation of the panel discussion at Thammasat University, which they called "a severe infringement of academic freedom."

"We urge the ruling military junta, the National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO), to stop intimidating academics and students, and respect academic freedom," the letter said. "If such a basic freedom as the freedom to engage in intellectual discussions within an academic institution is not respected, there is no hope that the Thailand that will come out of the NCPO's reform will respect citizens' basic rights and freedom."

On 2 September, the military forced a group of lawyers and activists to cancel their panel discussion on the status of human rights in junta-ruled Thailand. A spokesperson of the NCPO claimed it was necessary to block the talk, aptly titled "Access to Justice in Thailand: Currently Unavailable," to prevent the dissemination of false information and "prejudice."

 

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