CityNews – The Peace and Order Maintaining Command in Chiang Mai issued a clarification on the charge against five International Thai Studies Conference members on the 21st August, explaining that the charge was not about organising the forum but about a featured banner, heavily shared on social media, which authorities considered a political activity.
The declaration letter was announced on August 22nd by the military headquarters at Circle 33 reading:
1. The Peace and Order Maintaining Command in Chiang Mai fully encouraged the 13th International Thai Studies Conference and all academic activities that support the national advancement. The charge is not for participating in the forum.
2. On July 18th, during the forum, a group of people showed up holding a banner which read “An academic forum, not a military camp”, in front of a conference room 2 with equipment ready to propagate, and took turns taking photos with the banner. Such activity is considered a political activity. The authority tried to ask them to cease but did not receive cooperation.
The Peace and Order Maintaining Command in Chiang Mai also added in the letter that charging these five people was their duty by law in order to maintain the reputation of academic institutions in Chiang Mai, assuring they not be exploited by individuals or specific groups.
On the same day, Pakawadee Veerapatpong, one of the five people that are charged, told reporters that the activity should not have been considered a political gathering by law as none of the five people had any previous connection and there was no plan to gather. Each person merely took a photograph with the banner and posted it onto their persona Facebook account and none of the photos were taken with more than five people. The activity was also not in a public space as it occurred at the event which attendees needed to register and pay to participate.
“The academic freedom has been vividly violated in this governance of the National Council for Peace and Order. In the era of General Prem or Council of National Security, even though it wasn’t democracy, they still allowed a wider range of academic forums. The NCPO is different, they are trying really hard to limit academic minds. The forum was a hardcore sociology forum and those military who intruded the forum may have limited understanding about the topics and might have miscommunicated it in the report.” added Pakawadee.
An open letter, signed by 418 scholars across the world, was sent to the Prime Minister on August 20th asking them to withdraw the charges implied against Dr Chanya and all four attendees. The charges were not dropped and all five went to Chang Pueak police station as summoned. All denied the charge and await further investigations.