(New York) – Thailand’s state Mahidol University should drop a disciplinary investigation against academics who criticized the Thai military junta, Human Rights Watch said today. The action is being carried out against staff members of the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies (IHRP), Southeast Asia’s longest-running graduate degree program in human rights studies.
On February 25, 2017, the IHRP issued a statement condemning the National Council for Peace and Order junta’s unchecked and unaccountable power under section 44 of the 2014 interim constitution. One day later, Mahidol University announced in an unsigned statement that it did not consider IHRP’s action an exercise of academic freedom. The university said staff members responsible for the statement would face investigation and disciplinary action for damaging the reputation of the university and using the university’s name without permission.
“Mahidol University is doing the junta’s dirty work by repressing critical academics voicing their opinions,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “As one of Thailand’s leading educational institutions, Mahidol University should be a showcase for academic freedom and free speech rather than supporting the punishment of dissenting voices on campus.”
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, many foreign governments, and Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups have repeatedly urged the Thai prime minister and junta leader, Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha, to revoke section 44 and other provisions of the 2014 interim constitution that allow authorities to operate with impunity and without any legal oversight.
Since the May 2014 coup, the Thai junta has regularly blocked or disrupted public discussions on the political and human rights situation, halting public expression of differences in political opinions. Police and the military have used junta orders to cancel events for reports by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. The authorities have also banned many discussions at universities and other public venues about human rights, democracy, the monarchy, and the government’s performance.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a party, protects the rights of individuals to freedom of opinion, expression, association, and assembly. The UN committee that oversees compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), to which Thailand is also a party, has advised governments that academic freedom, as an element of the right to education, includes: “the liberty of individuals to express freely opinions about the institution or system in which they work, to fulfill their functions without discrimination or fear of repression by the State or any other actor, to participate in professional or representative academic bodies, and to enjoy all the internationally recognized human rights applicable to other individuals in the same jurisdiction.”
“Thailand is clearly not on a path toward democracy when free speech is censored, criticism is punished, and political activity is prohibited even inside a university,” Adams said. “Mahidol University should reverse course and end this reprehensible and repressive action that only helps strengthen military dictatorship at the expense of democracy and human rights.”