By Saksith Saiyasombut
The debates over the Nitirat group's proposals to amend the constitution and the lèse majesté law have become considerably heated and in parts downright ugly over the past weeks. Thammasat University became the venue and the center of controversy as most of the lectures of the group (consisting of 7 Thammasat law lectures) have taken place at that university and lately been banned by the administration, fearing that the university could be "mistaken to organize these events" or even seen to "agree with the movement".
The ban from the camps of "any activities related to the lese majeste law" has cast a large shadow over the university's stance on academic freedom. Ever since then, there are signs that its students and alumni are taking a stand for and against the ban and for and against the proposals of the Nitirat group themselves.
Tuesday was exemplary for this divide as two different groups were rallying on two different campuses of the university:
More than 200 current and former student members of the Journalism and Mass Communication Faculty staged a rally against Nitirat at the Tha Phrachan campus. Students and lecturers from other faculties and supporters joined in the demonstration.
They were countered by a group of students who gathered at Thammasat's Rangsit campus in Pathum Thani who oppose the ban on Nitirat. The group will hold a rally at Tha Phrachan campus on Sunday. (...) about 10 students came out to oppose the ban, saying it restricted freedom of speech.
"Nitirat ban splits student body", Bangkok Post, February 2, 2012
First off, let me express my astonishment that of all people, journalists and those striving to become one, should know better than anyone how important the subject of lèse majesté is and how threatening it is to their creed - the more mind-boggling and revealing it is to see these people rallying with posters (see above) like "Journalism [Faculty] against Nitirat", "Nitirat is not Thammasat, Thammasat is not Nitirat" and "Don't let knowledge distort morality!"
They called during a rally for members of the Thammsat community to oppose Nitirat's proposal for the amendment of Section 112 of the Criminal Code, for the university to launch a legal and disciplinary investigation of the seven law lecturers, for the mass media to exercise discretion in presenting information on the proposed amendment, and for people in all walks of life to oppose any move deemed insulting to the monarchy.
"Journalism students oppose Nitirat", Bangkok Post , February 2, 2012
Following the Thai Journalists Association welcoming (last sentence) last week's decision by Twitter to filter out tweets on a country-by-country basis (and Thailand rushing to endorse it), today's protest by journalism students against amendments to the ambiguous, but draconian lèse majesté law is a declaration of moral bankruptcy by Thailand's journalism.
For Thammasat University, considering its history and that it was once considered to be a beacon of liberal thinking, human rights and democratic freedom in Thailand, it is a dangerous walk on the tight rope. While its rector has given refuge to a young girl called "Kanthoop", who has been over the years witch-hunted by ultra-royalists and has to face a lèse majesté complaint, the university is risking to lose all its liberal credibility with the ban of the Nitirat group. In general this debate will test the ability of all Thais to listen and at least acknowledge opposing views and uncomfortable opinions - the outcome is yet to be expected.