Thailand: 'Absurd charges' over peaceful university protest must be dropped

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Charges brought against two academics, two students and a writer in Thailand for “holding an unlawful political gathering” are absurd and must be dropped, Amnesty International said today.

The five from Chiang Mai University were charged yesterday after being photographed with a banner protesting against military surveillance of a private academic conference last year.

At the event, the group held up a banner stating that “An academic seminar is not a military base”, alluding to the heavy presence of security forces in uniform and plainclothes at the 13th International Thai Studies Conference at Chiang Mai University in July 2017.

The group were also photographed making salutes based on the ’Hunger Games’ films. The Royal Thai Army raised a criminal complaint against them in August.

Katherine Gerson, Amnesty International’s Thailand campaigner, said:

“These absurd charges would be laughable were it not for the potentially grave consequences for those involved.

“All these students and academics did was make a peaceful, satirical comment about the heavy military presence at a university conference. For this, they could face up to six months in jail under a repressive decree introduced by the military government.

“The Thai authorities must drop these ridiculous charges and repeal the military decree that outlaws peaceful public assemblies of five or more persons. They must also put an end to the prosecutions, harassment and surveillance of academics, activists and intellectuals that has blighted the country since the coup.”

Those indicted by the Chiang Mai court are conference organiser Professor Chayan Vaddhanaphuti, lecturer Chaipong Samnieng, MA student Teeramon Buangam, undergraduate student Nontawat Machai, and freelance writer and translator Pakavadi Veerapaspong. The group have reported ongoing surveillance and harassment over the past year.

Since taking power in a military coup in May 2014, the military government in Thailand has initiated unjustifiable measures to suppress criticism of their rule and engagement in political activities that, among other impacts on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, have had a paralysing effect on the exercise of academic freedoms. 

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