Freed academic demands apology, action by authorities

Wyn Ellis, a UK academic and United Nations consultant based in Thailand, who was held for four days at Bangkok airport over an old case against him by the country’s former National Innovation Agency or NIA, has been freed.

He is demanding an apology and says action must be taken against former NIA director Supachai Lorlowhakarn for misusing his former official position, after learning that the NIA blacklisted him in 2009.

Ellis, a dual British and Thai citizen, was allowed back into Thailand on 7 September after being forced to remain at the airport for four days, having been barred from entering the country. He was told on 4 September after a trip to Norway that he had been blacklisted by the Thai immigration authorities.

“I had been blacklisted since December 2009 but I did not know about it,” Ellis told University World News. “I was a ‘danger to Thai society’. I was accused of forgery, stealing government documents and complaining about government officials.”

The blacklisting had been passed on to the immigration authorities from the NIA and arose from a long legal battle which began in 2008 between Ellis and Supachai, a former director of the NIA. Ellis accused Supachai of plagiarising his research on organic agricultural products for his own PhD dissertation for Chulalongkorn University and in another research paper published by the Thai Journal of Agricultural Science.

In 2012 Chulalongkorn revoked Supachai’s PhD delivered in 2008 – the first time Thailand’s top university had revoked a thesis in its 95-year history. The incident had reverberations across Thailand’s entire higher education system with new regulations put in place for PhD theses, including the use of anti-plagiarism software to check new and past research papers.

Supachai subsequently launched a case against the university in a Bangkok administrative court where it is still pending. But that case only looks at whether the university conducted its investigation into Supachai fairly, experts said.

At most the court could order the university to conduct a new investigation into Supachai’s thesis but cannot rule on whether plagiarism took place.

Supachai launched as many as nine lawsuits in response to Ellis’s plagiarism allegations, seven of which Ellis won, and two were arbitrated in court. The latest case – which went as far as the Supreme Court – was only concluded in May 2014. “Supachai used these cases to try to shut me up,” Ellis maintained.

Blacklisting revoked

Ellis told University World News that, on hearing on 5 September that he had been blacklisted by the immigration authorities at the request of the NIA, he immediately contacted the current head of the NIA, Pun-Arj Chairatana. The NIA then wrote a letter to the immigration authorities revoking the blacklisting. “From that point on there was no reason for me to be on the blacklist.”

The immigration authorities “had said they had accepted it [the blacklisting] as a fact being from another [government agency] but I was never given the right to reply”, Ellis said, adding the immigration authorities had been “very sympathetic” during his ordeal.

The delay in being allowed to enter Thailand, where Ellis has lived for 30 years, occurred because “it is easier to get on the blacklist than it is to get off it”, he said.

Ellis said his case has brought renewed attention to research plagiarism in Thailand and the abuse of authority, such as the use of the NIA to use the legal system against others.

Ellis said on Wednesday: “I would like an apology from the NIA for the damage it inflicted on me and my family and the damage caused to Thai research and science.”

According to Ellis: “The NIA should take action against Supachai. They have a duty to protect the state if any of its officials is found to be acting against the agency.”

Supachai left the NIA in 2014.

Ellis said the debacle puts under the spotlight the original case of a plagiarised article published in the Thai Journal of Agricultural Science, based on Supachai's PhD and which the journal's editor has still refused to retract. The article sparked the first application by Ellis for a court order related to the case against the then NIA director.

“There was an impasse,” Ellis said regarding the battle to have the article retracted.

Supachai could not be contacted for comment.