BANGKOK — University directors were told to do what they can to discourage students from joining protests that call for reform of the monarchy, and some were also tasked with monitoring those who plan to attend those rallies, reports say Monday.
A report on Reuters quoted a Senator as saying that high education establishments must tell students that violence could ensue if they continue to advocate for political change involving the monarchy – a move seen by government critics as a desperate attempt to stop the major protest scheduled for Saturday.
“University administrators should create understanding with the students on this and should put a stop to the demands on the monarchy,” Senator Somchai Sawangkarn told Reuters news agency.
He was also quoted as saying, “We did not tell the governors to block the protests but we want them to create understanding with university officials, especially on the 10 demands for the monarchy.”
Khaosod English also obtained a letter of the warning, which was reportedly sent to universities and colleges by their respective provincial governors. Part of the document said “calling for the abolishment of Article 112 of the Criminal Code is a sensitive issue and could lead to violence.”
Article 112 of the Criminal Code is the lese majeste law, which carries a maximum imprisonment term of 15 years. Abolishing the offense is part of the 10-point demand for reform issued by the protest leaders.
Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of political science at Ubon Ratchathani University was among those attending the meeting where the letter was handed to the administration.
Titipol said a senior provincial official in Ubon Ratchathani also urged two universities and two high schools administrators located in the province to hand them a list of the students who plan to attend the protest on Sept 19. The dean said he would not comply with the order.
“They want us to monitor those who will attend. I just listened. I won’t submit any such lists. It’s not my job,” Titipol said by phone Monday. “They may be targeted and may be classified as a threat to national security or, more likely, to military powers.
He added, “The aim of the meetings was to control student movements. Even two high schools administrators were invited. They want to assess the situation and ensure that student activism doesn’t violate the monarchy institution.”
Organizers of the protest say they will camp out either at Thammasat University’s Tha Prachan campus or the nearby Royal Field on Sept. 19. They said the monarchy will be discussed onstage.
Thammasat University sociologist Anusorn Unno said profiling opponents of the regime have been carried out since the May 2014 coup. “They should stop doing it,” said Anusorn.
Anusorn, who has been appointed by the student leaders as a mediator with the government, said the government is clearly trying to prevent the demands to reform the monarchy from becoming a national agenda.
“They don’t know what to do with it,” Anusorn said.
While the protest organizers, including activist Parit Chiwarak, were not available to comment as of press time Monday, pro-democracy campaigner Sirawith Seritiwat said the latest move shows that other government bodies, and not just security agencies, are acting like instruments for the states.
“This is indirect harassment,” Sirawith said. “It’s a clear signal that they do not support people exercising their rights.”
Tattep Ruangprapaikitseree, a leader of Free People Movement, also said Monday that he saw a similar letter, but issued by the authorities in Chonburi.
“The aim is to pressure the universities and students but it won’t work,” he said. “It’s futile as times have changed. This is a type of harassment.”
“Those thinking of handing out a list do not deserve to be teachers and university lecturers because they serve dictators,” he continued. “They should resign.”
As for concerns about violent clashes due to demands to reform the monarchy, Tattep said it’s the duty of police to ensure peace and order.
He maintained that student protesters have the right to call for monarchy reform. “It’s legal, and it’s not tantamount to overthrowing the monarchy,” he said.
Reports say Thai overseas are planning to hold rallies in other countries on Saturday in solidarity with the protest in Bangkok, including France and Germany.