Junta is still threatening academics during ‘talks’

Thailand’s military regime pledged to bring ‘peace and order’ when it assumed power on 22 May, summoning more than 500 politicians, academics and activists and detaining them for up to seven days under martial law to ensure ‘cooperation’ and ‘attitude adjustment’.

This prompted criticism from the international community and rights organisations.

To persuade the regime to return Thailand to democratic rule, the United States cut military aid worth US$4.7 million, the European Union suspended official cooperation and banned official visits, while Australia downgraded ties and imposed visa bans on military members of the government.

Under pressure, the junta announced on 26 June that it would stop the controversial summonses. Instead it has switched to unpublicised, off-the-record ‘invitations to talk’ as a way of intimidating outspoken academics into silence, rights groups note.

Most ‘invitations’ are not in writing but invitees are threatened with arrest if they do not comply.

According to human rights groups that have collected the testimony of some of those issued ‘invitations to talk’, the talks take place sometimes outside military barracks, such as in a coffee shop, and can be conducted by identified military officials of high rank occasionally in civilian clothing.

The intentions of the regime are made clear, causing fear within the academic community and leading to self-censorship both inside and outside of the classroom.

Academics invited

Academics in Bangkok’s northern and southern region have been among those ‘invited’ for talks with the junta, or the National Council for Peace and Order – NCPO – as it is known.

Phuangthong Pawakarapan, an associate professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University, told University World News she had received phone calls from military officers.

At first they said they would talk to her at the university, but when she met them on campus the soldiers took her by car to the Kings Guard, 2nd Cavalry Division, in Bangkok on 3 July.

There, she was interrogated for several hours by a representative of the National Intelligence Agency and nine other police and military officers about her outspoken criticism of the military’s role in the 2010 crackdown against supporters of the deposed government.

Phuangthong, who also heads an independent information centre that documented violence that caused almost 100 deaths, said she was told the military were extremely unhappy with her criticism of its role.

The authorities cited an article published on a pro-democracy website in which she interviewed another academic. They threatened to prosecute her under Thailand’s draconian lèse majéste law – which could lead to 15 years in prison – claiming that the article implicated the monarchy in the political conflict.

“This is definitely affecting how I would teach in the classroom, or even write academic papers, as you don’t know which student is going to implicate you as violating the law,” Phuangthong told University World News.

“Many students hold conservative political views and it’s problematic how much to impose self-censorship,” she said, adding: “Of course I would like to do my job with integrity but we still have to work here and live in the country.”

Another Chulalongkorn political scientist, Assistant Professor Pitch Pongsawat, was ‘invited’ for talks at military barracks on 4 July.

Known for co-hosting a television talk show, “Wake up Thailand”, and often presenting critical viewpoints, the authorities cited evidence they could use to prosecute him under the lèse majéste law if he did not stop criticising the military.

Pitch said being summoned had affected his credibility as an independent commentator, and that he could not comment further for fear of retribution.

Hara’s account

In the troubled southern part of Thailand Shintaro Hara, a prominent Japanese professor at Prince of Songkla University in Pattani province, was ‘invited’ for talks with military officers, which they suggested could take place “while having a cup of coffee”.

Hara said in a written account: “A few minutes later, I was contacted by one of the deputy rectors of my university, stating that the meeting was a serious one. He told me to come to the meeting room of the rector’s office on the next day. The vice-dean of my faculty was to attend the meeting too.”

According to Hara’s account, 4th Army Region commander Lieutenant General Walit Rojanaphakdee, who interviewed him during the talks, was unhappy about his criticism of the military – although it was made prior to the coup. He said Hara’s comments caused “disharmony in the society”.

After hours of questioning, “he kindly told me to refrain from stating my opinion in public for my own safety”, said Hara in his written account.

Walit was at pains to emphasise during the talks that an invitation rather than a summons had been issued, according to Hara. The general stressed that there had been no formal letter, “and my embassy should understand that it wasn’t a summons", according to Hara.

Nonetheless, if Hara was to “commit this kind of offence again”, Walit said he “wouldn’t ‘invite’ me, but summon me to report myself and to stay [be detained] with his men for seven days. Then the meeting was finished,” Hara noted.


Although the military said it had stopped issuing summonses, Human Rights Watch said at least 20 individuals had been summoned in the week after the announcement.

The junta also continues to pursue those summoned earlier. Last week it revoked the passport of Somsak Jeamteerasakul, a history professor at Thammasat University, after he failed to report following several summonses and an arrest warrant.

Thanapol Eawsakul, editor of the Same Sky academic journal, was released from detention on 8 July after being arrested and detained – for the second time – on 5 July. The military had asked him to meet at a coffee shop for a talk, but then arrested and detained him at the Crime Suppression Division.

According to Thanapol, the military questioned him about his Facebook posts, which touch on the policy of the junta government. He was forced to sign, for a second time, an agreement stating that he would stop all political activities and stop expressing opinions on politics.

Thanapol was earlier arrested on 23 May, only a day after the coup, during an anti-coup protest. Later he was detained for seven days after his name appeared on a summons list.

The Asian Human Rights Commission said such actions were “an ominous indication of the ongoing crisis of human rights following the recent coup in Thailand”.

Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said the arbitrary arrests of dissidents and critics were part of a wider human rights crackdown under military rule.

“Concerned governments should take a strong stand and demand that the military authorities fully abide by Thailand’s international obligations and build a road map for the restoration of a democratic government based on human rights,” said Adams.