With Greater Caution, Article 112 Reform Returns to KKU

KHON KAEN – For the second time in recent weeks, the Campaign Committee to Amend Article 112 (CCAA 112) continued its effort to reform the lèse-majesté law (Article 112) on Khon Kaen University’s campus, this time employing a non-confrontational tactic akin to “don’t ask, don’t tell.” The organizers from the Thai Undergraduate Student Union sought to avoid conflict with the university and chose to identify the event at KKU’s Kwan Mor Hotel as a meeting of the innocuously named “Community Development Institute.” The university, for its part, received a statement of purpose from the Student Union and opted not to inquire about future meetings.

Though the organizers’ procedural sleight of hand could be easily overlooked, it is emblematic of the treacherous pas de deux that Thai intellectuals and universities have been practicing ever since the CCAA 112 began its controversial campaign in mid-January.

Indeed, the previous meeting of CCAA 112 at the campus hotel on January 29 saw its headlining speaker and KKU academic Dr. Buapun Promphakping drop out at the last minute. The Associate Professor at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Science later clarified his absence by saying that Manager Online reporters had incorrectly identified his faculty to be one of the event’s organizers and Dr. Buapun, “thought the [faculty] would not be happy with that.”

This Monday afternoon, however, Dr. Buapun sat in on the forum, though he was the only KKU professor in attendance. After last month’s confusion, he chose not to address the audience.

“The upcountry universities are very careful about this sort of thing,” said Dr. Buapun. “Khon Kaen University is not like Thammasat University or Chulalongkorn University [in Bangkok]. We are a [provincial] university and we seem to understand that we are part of the government. Government policy is concerned with security, so [KKU] is more concerned with security than freedom of speech.”

On February 13, Thammasat University decided to officially allow Article 112 activities on campus after its ban on such activities two weeks earlier created much controversy.  The decision by Thammasat, notoriously the most politically active campus in Thailand, has not visibly influenced other state-run schools in the provinces.

In addition, Dr. David Streckfuss, the foremost scholar on Thai lèse-majesté law and a resident of Khon Kaen, gave a short presentation on lèse-majesté laws in other constitutional monarchies. He did not, however, utter the word “Thailand” even once.

When asked why he had chosen not to speak about lèse majesté in Thailand, Dr. Streckfuss responded without mention of self-censorship. “Thais might have less access to different kinds of laws or other kinds of provisions [on lèse majesté] from other constitutional monarchies,” he said. “Thailand, or at least the new government, has made a case of wanting to follow international standards of human rights. If that’s the case, then we would look at what those standards are and how they are observed in countries that are members of the European Union, for instance, and how these countries handle lèse majesté.”

Even though Monday’s event proceeded with much circumspection, its student organizers were not distressed by the kind of caution exercised by students and academics alike. Instead, they saw it as integral in their campaign to spread information about Article 112 and the proposed reforms.

“We’re not afraid of anything, but we evaluated the situation and we didn’t want there to be pressure that would have disallowed us from holding the event at all, like the last time when a professor had to remove himself [from the panel],” said a student organizer from the Thai Undergraduate Student Union. “Next, we’re looking to go to Loei or Sakon Nakhon, or if there are people in villages who want to know about 112, we can even set up talks in small communities.”