University rector bans anti-LM law campaign-The Nation

February 7, 2012


Where did the promised freedom at Thammasat go?

Supalak Ganjanakhundee

The Nation: February 1, 2012


Thammasat University rector Somkid Lertpaithoon does not need to know if the phrase “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” came from French philosopher Voltaire or his biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall.

But as the rector of Thammasat, he needs to know that his university is obliged to protect freedom of expression – even if he disagrees with the Nitirat group’s campaign to amend Article 112 of the Penal Code in relation to the lese majeste charge.

Nitirat, a group of academics from the university’s Faculty of Law, recently used university facilities to launch their campaign demanding the law be amended so it is more democratic.

Under the law, a lese majeste suspect faces harsh punishment and may not be given a chance to defend himself. The law has been used as a political tool over the past few years.

Nitirat and other intellectuals are campaigning to make the law lenient and prevent people from using it for political purposes. They are collecting signatures before they take the petition to Parliament and push for the law to be amended.

Unfortunately, royalists, conservatives, politicians and the mass media are accusing Nitirat of going against the monarchy.

Now, Somkid and other Thammasat executives are going against the university’s spirit and prohibiting any moves against the lese majeste law to be made from campus. In his Facebook page, Somkid said Thammasat University would not allow anyone to use its campuses to launch campaigns because the authorities do not want any misunderstandings about the university’s stance. He added that Nitirat’s moves could also result in violent flare-ups.

This is not the first time that the freedom of expression has been limited at Thammasat. Students and academics have been made to shut up after Thammasat executive received instructions from certain dictators. It is interesting to note that Thammasat listens to undemocratic governments that are either the military or have military backing.

Two years after the 1932 revolution for democracy, senior statesman Pridi Banomyong founded Thammasat University to teach

students about law, morality and democracy. It was as an open university, where students did not need to pass an entrance examination to get enrolled. It gave each and every man or woman a chance at getting educated.

This university and its students have played a major role in pushing the country towards democracy. The uprising against the dictatorship of Thanom Kittikachorn in October 1973 kicked off at Thammasat, and its students and academics have continued being progressive people, who usually spend their time studying, discussing or debating the issues of politics and democracy.

Somkid and many of the current university staff have graduated from Thammasat, and some are even former student activists who launched their rallies from this very university.

It used to be said that freedom of expression was guaranteed in every square inch of Thammasat University, which makes one wonder who exactly has stolen this freedom now.




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