Military orders HE commission to monitor students

Control over dissidents opposing the military coup that took place on 22 May has been increased, as Thailand's junta ordered the Higher Education Commission to monitor student activities that express hostility to the regime. The order came after dozens of student activists held sporadic symbolic protests in the past month.

Thai universities nationwide received an internal order from the Education Ministry’s Office of the Higher Education Commission last week.

University officials were commanded to monitor student activities that display “behaviours against the National Council for Peace and Order”, or NCPO, as the military regime is called, and to “create understanding among students about the NCPO’s intention and policies”.

The letter also stated that university officials should persuade students not to participate in any protest that disrupts peace and order. Rather, they should convince students to “use proper channels to suggest solutions to the country’s problems”.

The order follows an earlier one, issued in the first week of June from the ministry’s Office of the Basic Education Commission, banning criticism of the junta in Thai schools.

Those guidelines also prohibit school officials from participating in political protests or demonstrations or holding ‘political seminars’ in schools. Teachers were asked to encourage students and their families to avoid all political demonstrations.

The junta also ordered the Basic Education Commission to revise textbooks and increase the teaching of ‘civic duty’ subjects to instill patriotism and a strong belief in the nation, religion and the monarchy.

Sporadic, symbolic anti-coup protests in the last month have been quelled with arrests by the police and military.

Among those arrested and released were nine students from the Thai Student Center for Democracy, a network of student activist groups from various universities in Bangkok.

They held ‘symbolic actions’ – for example, giving out ‘anti-coup sandwiches’ at a student picnic, an act now deemed by the junta as being against peace and order and liable for up to seven years in prison.

Academics summoned

In June, dozens of academics in the northern and northeastern provinces of Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, Mahasarakham and Phitsanulok were summoned by the regional army for ‘talks’ aimed at securing agreements that they would not carry out any political activities.

The regions have been strongholds of the deposed government led by Yingluck Shinawatra. Her now-in-exile brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, was also ousted by a military putsch in 2006.

Since the coup, the junta has suspended the constitution and enacted martial law. Those who violate the junta’s ‘peace and order’ rulings will be tried in military courts.

The military has already summoned more than 500 academics, activists and journalists under the so-called “Attitude Adjustment Programme”.

Most are released within seven days without charges but must sign an agreement not to participate in political activity and must seek permission from the junta before leaving the country.

For those summoned but who have not yet reported, the military authorities have issued arrest warrants which could lead to two years in prison and-or a 40,000 baht (US$1,230) fine.

Among the summoned were Somsak Jeamteerasakul, a history lecturer at Thammasat University known for vocal criticism of the monarchy, and Suthachai Yimprasert, a Chulalongkorn University history lecturer.

Also summoned were former Chulalongkorn University lecturer Giles Ji Ungpakorn, who is in exile in England, and Suda Rangkupan – both involved involved in the Red Shirt movement, a grassroots group that supports the deposed Thaksin Shinawatra – and transgender activist Saran Chuichai or ‘Aum Neko’ from Thammasat University.

They have not reported to the military and could face arrest.

Aum Neko said she would definitely not present herself to the junta, as it did not have the legitimacy to rule the people. She remains in hiding.

“The situation is definitely affecting education because the junta will revise the teaching of history to praise the nation and the monarch. Education is supposed to teach us critical thinking and to question institutions in society,” she told University World News.

Two members of Khana Nitirat – Enlightened Jurists – were summoned a day after the coup but did not present themselves to the military until mid-June. They have been charged with violating the NCPO’s order because they did not appear on time.

The Khana Nitirat, a seven-member group of law scholars from Thammasat University, has been calling for amendments to Thailand’s draconian lese majeste law, under which many dissidents have been charged.

Sawatree Suksri, a member of Khana Nitirat, was arrested at the airport as she returned from overseas and was taken to the military barracks in a province outside Bangkok. She was released after three days of interrogation, and was not charged but had to sign an agreement not to participate in political activity.

Worachet Pakeerut, a law lecturer at Thammasat University, was arrested as he reported to the NCPO on 18 June. He had expressed an intention to appear but had to delay due to sickness. He has been charged with violating the NCPO’s order and will be tried by a military court. Worachet is now on bail.

The president of the Council of University Presidents of Thailand, Professor Rachata Rachatanawin, said the coup was a “good opportunity” to carry out education reform. He said the council would come up with proposals to send to the NCPO later on.