International scholars call for reform of Thailand’s lese majeste law

[UPDATE 14 March 2009: here is the list of additional scholars and public intellectuals who have signed onto the letter to Prime Minister Abhisit.]

The following statement was presented at a press conference held at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand in Bangkok at 10 AM today. The press conference was attended by local and international media and interested members of the public. The press conference was addressed by Thongchai Winichakul and Andrew Walker, both via internet links.

Over fifty international scholars and dignitaries have signed a letter to the Thai Prime Minister calling for reform of the lese majeste law. The letter comes after a spate of lese majeste cases in Thailand and moves by the Thai government to restrict internet discussion of the royal family. The letter urges the Thai government to consider the following:

  • Please stop seeking more suppressive measures against individuals, web sites, and the peaceful expressions of ideas.
  • Please consider suggestions to reform the lese majeste law to prevent further abuses and to prevent the possibility of further damage to the international reputation of Thailand and the monarch.
  • Please consider taking action to withdraw the current lese majeste charges, and working to secure the release of those already convicted under the lese majeste law. They are charged for expressing their ideas. This should not be a crime.

The letter argues that “frequent abuse of the lese majeste law against political opponents undermines democratic processes” and generates “heightened criticism of the monarchy and Thailand itself, both inside and outside the country.”

Signatories to the letter include:

  • World leaders in human rights and civil liberties, such as Lord Eric Avebury, Dr. Caroline Lucas, Senator Martone, Smitu Kothari, Walden Bello;
  • Prominent scholars who are famous throughout the academic world across fields and disciplines like Noam Chomsky, Stuart Hall, Arjun Appadurai, Jim Scott, Arif Dirlik, Stanley Tambiah, Immanuel Wallerstein, and many more;
  • Several Fellows of the British Academy, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences;
  • Presidents, former presidents and leaders of several internationally prestigious academic associations, namely the Associations for Asian Studies , the American Political Science Association, the American Sociological Association, the Asian Studies Association of Australia, and more;
  • Leading legal scholars such as a former judge in the International Court of Justice, a former President of the Australian and New Zealand Society of International Law, and leading scholars on human rights law.
  • Leading international scholars of Southeast Asia and Thailand in many fields including political science, history, anthropology, literature, geography, economics, environmental studies, most of whom have long term experience in Thailand and the region.

Additional signatories are currently being collected. The letter will be delivered to the Honorable Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in late March or early April. Those who want to include their name on the letter are invited to send their name, title/ rank/position and affiliation to one of the following “Coordinators” of this campaign. (Please don’t provide your details as a comment to this post.)

  • Thongchai Winichakul, Professor, Department of History, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA. twinicha@wisc.edu
  • Andrew Walker, Senior Fellow, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia. andrew.walker@anu.edu.au
  • Jim Glassman, Associate Professor, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, 217 – 1984 West Mall, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2 Canada. nmsslg@yahoo.ca
  • Larry Lohmann, The Corner House, Station Road, Sturminster Newton, Dorset DT10 1YJ, United Kingdom. larrylohmann@gn.apc.org
  • Adadol Ingawanij, Post-doctoral Researcher, Centre for Research and Education in Arts and Media, University of Westminster, Harrow Campus, UK.  M.Ingawanij@westminster.ac.uk

New Mandala will provide a ”window” for this campaign. We will provide updated news and information on the progress of the campaign.

About Andrew Walker and Nicholas Farrelly