Harvard Must Not Endorse Military Dictatorship in Thailand
An open letter to the Harvard Crimson from Robert Amsterdam, counsel to the Organization of Free Thais for Human Rights and Democracy (FT-HD)
Nicholas P. Fandos
14 Plympton St.
Cambridge, MA 02138
August 21, 2014
Dear Mr. Fandos,
I read with grave concern the recent article published on 18 August 2014 in The Harvard Crimson entitled “Troubles with Thai Studies,” which reported the ongoing efforts by Thailand’s coup-appointed Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan to institute a $6 million endowed “Thai Studies Program” at Harvard University that would serve to legitimize an illegal military government.
I was further dismayed to see the article temporarily pulled from the website after the author received threats of violence from these same extremists that have toppled the elected government in Thailand. Although the article has indeed been reposted subsequently, legitimate concerns remain.
As the article notes, “Most of the Harvard program’s Thai backers are members of a conservative elite—which includes the aristocracy, generals, and wealthy families—that has dominated the country since the 1950s and rolled back reforms enacted after the absolute monarchy was overthrown in 1932.”
This is actually putting it quite mildly. As international counsel to the Red Shirt movement, we have been fighting for four years for accountability for the Bangkok massacres of 2010, when almost 100 unarmed protesters were murdered in cold blood by the Thai Army under the orders of an unelected government. Now these same people, whose supporters threatened your correspondent, have seized the instruments of power after losing six consecutive democratic elections in a row. Their vision is not about reform, but rather returning the nation to a feudalistic state, where the rights of a minority of citizens count more than the rights of the majority.
Harvard University is internationally respected as one of the world’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning, so it comes as a grave disappointment to see the Harvard Asia Center kowtow to a brutally intolerant military junta that has repeatedly violated academic freedoms.
After taking power, the junta’s “National Peace and Order Maintaining Council” detained hundreds of outspoken professors and students for interrogations. A letter signed by 26 academics based overseas and argued that “the coup cannot be a measure for peace because the coup itself is the use of violence,” while demanding an immediate return to constitutional rule.
Under the military junta, the abuse of the draconian lese majeste law has proliferated, including the arrests of two university students last week who could face lengthy prison sentences for having performed in a play about the 1973 Thammasat University student massacre by the military. The play, entitled “The Wolf Bride,” was performed more than 10 months ago.
Meanwhile, the junta appears to be signaling that they intend to hold power for the foreseeable future. In an unprecedented move, the coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha just gave himself the highest civilian post as a supine parliament elected him Prime Minister. The junta’s “draft constitution” contains nothing about rights, but rather a list of military decrees.
On behalf of the members of FT-HD, as well as the tens of millions of Thai people who simply want to restore their basic right to suffrage, I would respectfully ask that The Harvard Crimson take a closer look how the military junta is attempting to hijack the University’s good name to launder their soiled reputation.
A stronger effort to expose the truth in Thailand is required, and judging by the shameful and cowardly attempt by the pro-coup forces in Thailand to intimidate your correspondent, the Crimson must not back down.
Amsterdam & Partners LLP