KHON KAEN – One hundred and fifty members of the Isaan People’s Network protested outside Khon Kaen University’s Office of the President yesterday to demand justice for the recently dismissed Acting Dean of the Law Faculty. Just two weeks earlier, Kittibodi Yaipool, who was awaiting his promotion to Dean, found instead that he was banned from the grounds of his faculty with little justification. Yesterday’s protesters fear he was discharged on account of his exceptional commitment to human rights activism.
The villagers, hailing from 19 provinces, came to show support for a professor and administrator who has helped many rural communities navigate legal troubles. Some claimed that they learned how to protect their communities’ land thanks to the timely legal counsel of Mr. Kittibodi and his students. Others were grateful to be attending the Law Faculty’s free bi-monthly course which was established by Mr. Kittibodi to teach villagers how to use the law to preserve their way of life. All came to fight for the rights of a man who has spent many years teaching them how to fight for their own.
The demonstration culminated as leaders of the Isaan People’s Network handed a letter to a representative from the Office of the President. Their letter asked the President to clarify the future direction of the Law Faculty, the justification for Mr. Kittibodi’s removal, and the University’s policy on including local citizens in the management of University affairs. These requests followed a lengthy indictment of the University’s recent actions.
Though Mr. Kittbodi had been the Acting Dean of the Law Faculty since its inception in 2006, it was only in October of 2010 that the selection committee nominated him to begin his term as Dean in June 2011. After June 1 had come and gone and he had not received an official notification of appointment from the President, Mr. Kittibodi drafted a letter asking for an explanation. Twenty-seven University employees signed.
Then, on June 16, the national “Wai Khru” holiday for honoring teachers, Mr. Kittibodi arrived to the Law Faculty to find a series of posters accusing him and six of his staff of destroying official documents. The signed notices from University President Kittichai Triratanasirichai barred all seven employees from re-entering the faculty. In some cases, photocopied pictures of the accused were posted beneath the President’s order.
Now, Mr. Kittibodi argues that his rights have been compromised. “There was no due process,” he explained in an interview. “The principles of human rights state that you are innocent until proven guilty.” He hopes that the University will allow for a fair and transparent investigation in which he can present his case. He contends no documents went missing while he was in office.
“This is an abuse of power that should not happen in this century,” he said, “and certainly not at the Faculty of Law, of all places. It is a threat to my human rights.”
To strengthen his appeal, Kittibodi presented his case to the National Human Rights Council in Bangkok on June 20. And, on June 24, he filed an official police report for wrongful dismissal.
But Mr. Kittibodi has little trust in the prospect of a fair investigation. Much like the villagers, he also believes he has been punished for his involvement with human rights cases, which he explained Thai society often views as attacks on governmental power. He claims that many coworkers had quietly warned him that human rights was a sensitive issue and he should not get involved. Suddenly, their whispers seem all the more prescient.
Despite the fear that social activism cost Mr. Kittibodi his job, the University continues to insist otherwise. After KKU’s Vice President of Finance Dr. Sommai Priprem emerged from the President’s office to receive the villagers’ letter, he announced, “I still confirm this is a University for the public, for the poor, and for the people.” He evaded questions regarding Mr. Kittibodi’s abrupt ban from the faculty and insisted the University had acted according to University policy.
Mani Boonrod, who handed the villagers’ requests to Dr. Sommai, summed up her cause before she traveled home to Udon Thani. “We believe Kittibodi was fired unfairly,” she said. “We handed over this letter to see that the University acts justly.”