Pushing Nitirat to the edge

“TU – freedom in every square inch but don’t speak” Source: Matichon Online

Thammasat University’s recent decision to ban Nitirat activity on its premises has threatened its reputation as a beacon of free speech and a locus of political activism as well as risked radicalizing the movement. A unanimous decision was reached on January 30 “to disallow any campaign to amend Article 112 because the university is a government office and permitting such activity could mislead the public to believe the university agrees with such movement. This could create major rifts and possibly incite violent conflict within the university itself.”[1]

TU rector, Dr. Somkit Lertpaithoon, later opines on his personal Facebook page:

It’s difficult being the TU’s rector.

1. When I expressed my intellectual disagreement with Nitirat, one group protested, slandered, and threatened to oust me from my position.

2. Then I allowed Nitirat to use university premises for its activity, another group condemned my decision.

3. I then decided I have had enough with Nitirat (having allowed 4-5 activities); the first group came out against me.

4. I think Karntoop witch-hunting is inappropriate; the first group praised me but the second scorned me…

Thai society doesn’t allow people to be righteous or appropriate.[2]

It’s easy to direct blame on the dean. After all it’s public knowledge that the rector himself does not favour the Nitirat group, neither do some of the TU’s own law faculty members.[3] Yet, the decision to completely ban Nitirat activity altogether is shutting down an important avenue of public political discourse. This has both normative and practical ramifications. By blocking people from participating in public discussion, especially on an important, albeit highly controversial, issue such as Article 112, it violates the university’s own norms and goes against its long history of providing public space in Thailand’s political history. Moreover, the move has, in effect, greatly undermined the legitimacy of the group, which is composed largely of Thammasat University’s own faculty members.

On a practical level, the ban risks radicalizing the Nitirat group by depriving people of a key area of public discourse. Already, Nitirat’s activity has been marginalized by much of the mainstream media (particularly TV), with a notable exception of Matichon, Bangkok Post and Thai PBS.[4] Political parties of all stripes have actively disassociated themselves from the group. The PAD has come out strongly against the Nitirat, while the Red Shirts remain on the fence about its position. “The Red Shirts do not support the Nitirat’s proposal to amend Article 112. However, I admit some sections of the Reds are in agreement with this,” says Peau Thai MP Korkaew Pikulthong.[5] Much of the Nitirat’s activity had, thus far, taken placed or been reported largely on university campuses, alternative media outlets and online. Closing off the group’s main public venue could push the group further to the edge.

“We know the Article [112] won’t get amended because it won’t pass the parliamentary process. But the constitution permits citizens to submit a petition to amend the law. Regardless of the outcome, we as citizens have the right to express our opinion,” argues Nitirat leader, Dr. Worajade Pakeerat.[6]

Thammasat’s decision to draw a red line on what political activity is permitted on campus is setting precedents for other educational institutions. King Prajadiphok Institute called the Nitirat “a group of people who call themselves ‘academics’ whose aim is to violate the monarchical institution.”[7] In addition, Mahasarakam University students have been prohibited from holding public talks on Article 112 on campus.[8]

 

Universities should be places where debate and discussion is opened up, not closed down.


[1] http://www.matichon.co.th/news_detail.php?newsid=1327920954&grpid=&catid=01&subcatid=0100

[2] A rough translation of Dr. Somkiat Lertpiathoon Facebook post, January 31, 2012. The actual posting is:

เป็นอธิการมธ.ก็ลำบากหน่อย
1แสดงความไม่เห็นด้วยทางวิชาการกับนิติราษฎร์ก็มีคนออกมาประท้วง ด่าและข่มขู่คุกคาม ให้ปลดจากตำแหน่ง
2อนุญาตให้นิติราษฎร์ใช้ที่มหาลัยก็มีคนอีกกลุ่มหนึ่งมากดดันคัดค้านต่อว่า
3เห็นว่าควรพอได้แล้วกับ 112 (หลังจากอนุญาตไปแล้ว4-5 ครั้ง) คนกลุ่มแรกก็ออกมาอีก
4 เห็นว่าไม่ควรไล่ล่าแม่มดก้านธูป คนกลุ่มแรกออกมาชม
คนกลุ่ม 2 ออกมาว่าอีก
สังคมไทยไม่ยอมให้คนยืนบนความถูกต้องและพอดีพองามเลยหรือไง

[4][4] Less mainstream media that regularly reports on Nitirat activity is Prachatai, Voice TV and social media

[5][5] Note: Other Red Shirt Peau Thai MPs, such as Jatuporn and Natthawut, claimed the UDD does not support the Nitirat group. Jatuporn even went further by warning his fellow Red Shirts that by supporting the Nitirat, they could be calling for a military intervention. http://www.manager.co.th/Home/ViewNews.aspx?NewsID=9550000013468

[7] http://www.matichon.co.th/news_detail.php?newsid=1328022771&grpid=03&catid=&subcatid=