Don't silence deep thinkers

Don't silence deep thinkers

The recent termination of employment, work permit and related visa of David Streckfuss, an American academic who has worked at Khon Kaen University for the past 27 years, has intensified fears over suppression of academic freedom.

Mr Streckfuss is a key person at The Isaan Record, an online media outlet that shares news and culture stories on the people and history of Isan, Thailand's treasured and distinctive Northeast. He is also known as a leading authority in the lese majeste law. It's widely speculated that his preoccupation for the draconian law cost him his job and visa, although the university denied this outright.

About a month before his termination, Mr Streckfuss helped organise a seminar on Isan identity. He met several activists and writers and spoke about many things, including the question of decentralisation. Some uniformed personnel, who tried unsuccessfully to attend incognito, were allowed to listen. Such presence was a shame.

Thailand's establishment, obssessed with archaic feudalism, is notoriously uneasy with the notion of decentralisation and this iron-fisted approach was probably aimed at silencing the academic.

Mr Streckfuss wrote Truth on Trial in Thailand: Defamation, Treason and Lese-Majeste, published by Routledge Press in 2011. Available online, it will now be getting some extra downloads -- precisely what happens when you attempt to silence or ostracise a writer and thinker. It was a bold and inquiring piece of work aimed at an academic readership. Good academics exist to make people think in more than one direction.

In 2012, Mr Streckfuss was one of three academics who contributed long and detailed drafts to another volume, King Bhumibol Adulyadej: A Life's Work -- Thailand's Monarchy in Perspective. The book was intended to provide an accurate and dispassionate perspective on Thailand's monarchy.

Thailand has a broader problem with the way academics are treated. How many have had to flee abroad for their own safety? How many are pressured to always conform? It also has problems with freedoms of speech and thought.

The reason given to Mr Streckfuss for his termination of employment, on March 19, six months before it would have ended, was that he was unable to fulfil his duties regarding the student exchange programme at Khon Kaen university.

This newspaper urges that more leniency be given in this regard, given the fact that the world is experiencing a global pandemic which has virtually halted all international travel for over a year.

Thailand has had its borders rightly closed to prevent the spread of the virus. Thus, how could Mr Streckfuss have been expected to fulfil his duties of enrolling exchange students on to the Khon Kaen University programme?

Given the pandemic, and with the anticipated reopening of Thailand in July, wouldn't it have been wiser for the university to extend his contract for six months, maybe even a year, so he could fulfil his duties?

Now, Mr Streckfuss is applying for a work permit with Buffalo Birds Production, a company registered with The Isaan Record that produces documentaries, which will make him eligible for another type of visa.

Immigration Division 4 in Khon Kaen have said they need more time to inspect the paperwork -- that could be another foot-dragging tactic but attempts to eliminate him are useless. The Prayut government must learn to tolerate those who think differently. Constructive criticism is healthy for a democracy; suppression is not.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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