On Sunday, Thais across the country will vote to either accept or reject the draft charter in a referendum.
Prior to this week’s cooling off period, which bans any form of campaigning, Thai authorities and university officials have been accused of silencing public discussions about the draft charter and referendum, reported Prachatai.
Such events have been cancelled at several Thai universities, either on orders from the university itself or from authorities, with the former likely driven by fear of ending up on the wrong side of the military junta.
According to a group of pro-democracy academics at the university, an official press conference called “Three Rejections of the Referendum” was cancelled based on orders from the university’s president, reported Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) on Monday.
Press conference on referendum by progressive group ‘Midnight University’ ordered banned by rector of Chiang Mai U. https://t.co/eNJZsBquR8
— Kaewmala (@Thai_Talk) July 31, 2016
The group’s representative, Somchai Preechasinlapakun, said that the Dean of the Law Faculty had informed him on Sunday that the event had to be cancelled, citing a verbal order from the university president.
Somchai commented that the university was “gradually turning into a military camp”.
The group also distributed its statement on paper to members of the media, saying that the university had banned them from reading it out loud.
The group had intended to share its concerns over the draft charter, as well as the drafting process.
On Monday, the university’s Dean of the Faculty of Political Science, Titipol Phakdeewanich, had shared to his Facebook page information regarding a public seminar titled “A Free and Fair Constitutional Referendum and its Implication for the Future of Thai Democracy”. The event, which was supposed to take place on August 2, was cancelled following requests from the university executive and the Provincial Governor.
— Achara Ashayagachat (@AAshayagachat) August 1, 2016
Titipol said though the Thai authorities had given the event the green light, it was university officials who were skittish, claiming that the seminar was redundant, as local officials had already held a similar event, reported The Isaan Record.
However, Titipol argued that the seminar, which was meant to provide a public platform to discuss the draft constitution, was an important part of the democratic process.
“It is in fact our duty. As the Faculty of Political Science, we have to open a channel for discussion and free criticism of the draft charter because many people nowadays still have questions on the draft’s content,” he said, as quoted by the news portal.
Mahidol University’s president, Udom Kachintorn, said on Saturday that he had received an official complaint from the country’s Election Commission regarding Gothom Arya, director of the university’s Research Centre for Peace Building. Gothom is known to be a fierce critic of the junta and its draft charter.
“Mahildol University tells staff to stop attacking charter” https://t.co/eqenZGTOnR
— Kaewmala (@Thai_Talk) July 31, 2016
In the letter, Udom was told to speak with Gothom and get him to refrain from airing such criticisms publicly, reported Matichon Online.
Udom told the news portal that he had already spoken to Gothom, as he wished to maintain the university’s political neutrality.
On Saturday, pro-democracy student activists were told they could not host a public discussion on the draft charter, which was meant to be held the next day.
At khon kaen university; the talk for freedom was prevented by cutting electric power and water.
— ฑัมใจ แก้ปวด (@saiyasasmith) July 31, 2016
The university’s Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture, Jirawat Sanitchon, said that allowing the talk would have made the university seem biased towards one side.
Despite the ban, the students refused to cancel the event, saying that the university had given them permission and they had already paid the rental fee for the venue.
In a bid to put a halt to the talk, the university then cut off the electricity and water supply to the venue, forcing the organizers to resort to using an electric generator.
Though the talk went on as planned, the audience had to sit on the ground, as university officials had even told the restaurant where the students had rented chairs from to take the chairs back.
Image via Associated Press