Monday, July 12, 2010

Thai Academics Shut Down Warned not to air political views

Thai academics are being intimidated out of speaking out on a large scale, according to University World News, a London-based publication for academics. In an article by Yojana Sharma, published on July 11, the publication said that "broadcasting freely is no longer a simple and safe matter since the government crackdown against Red Shirt protesters in May."

Radio stations have been shut down and academics have been warned by their own universities to not openly broadcast their opinions, the story said, quoting Suda Rangkupan, a lecturer in linguistics at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, who told
Sharma that "Regular commentators on mainstream radio and television stations have also become more cautious although the change is sometimes subtle: ‘Many professors are reluctant to take sides, often they censor themselves. If I talk about linguistics I have to be [politically] neutral.'"

Suda has considerably reduced her broadcast appearances, according to the story. Her reluctance and that of her colleagues has tended to strangle open debate given that Thai academics appear on broadcast media far more than in most other countries.

Chulalongkorn and Thammasat Universities in the past have played major roles in dissent against the Thai military. In violence in 1973 and 1976, students and faculty were both attacked, particularly in 1976 when leftist students were attacked at Thammasat by the military. Hundreds were widely believed to have been murdered.

In recent mnths, Giles Ji Ungpakorn, an associate professor at Chulalongkorn, was forced to flee the country after being charged with lese majeste for allegedly insulting King Bhumibol Adulydej. He has emerged as a spokesman for the Red shirt movement from London.Warnings against political activism are not just from the government, according to the University World News. One major university in June distributed a circular saying professors should not be "openly involved in political conflict".

Chulalongkorn University in particular has sought to distance itself from comments made by its academics, distributing a letter saying they should not refer to their university affiliation when commenting on broadcast media or in interviews.
The number of people willing to speak out is dwindling by the day. Suda recently received a note from her university head of department pointing out that her subject, linguistics, had nothing to do with politics. Extract from an article by Yojana Sharma for the Asia Sentinel

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