Thai Junta Threatens German University

The long arm of Thailand’s junta apparently reaches to Germany, where Thai officials attempted to block a speech by dissident academician Pavin Chachavalpongpun to students at the Southeast Asian Department at Goethe University in Frankfurt by threatening to cut off funds to the program.

Pavin has been a target of the National Council Peace and Order almost since the May 22 coup that ended representative democracy in Thailand. Frankfurt, where he now is on a study program, is the overseas home of Thai Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, the heir to the Thai throne, which could or could not be important.

Pavin's Thai passport has been revoked and the Thai foreign ministry has attempted to pressure Japan, where he normally teaches at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University, to extradite him back to Thailand. He is one of hundreds of dissidents who have gone into exile, but is one of a relatively small number of high-value targets that the government would particularly like to retrieve.

Prayuth Chan-ocha, the coup leader who appointed himself prime minister, has ordered ambassadors from a number of countries hosting the exiles in an attempt to force them to send them back. No country has done so.

Pavin was forced to apply for refugee status in Japan because he rejected the junta’s call to have his “attitude adjusted,” a euphemism that has affected hundreds of people in Thailand who have been forced to appear before junta officials to be warned they could be punished if they caused any more trouble. Refugee status has enabled him to travel, taking a one-month research fellowship with the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies temporarily at Albert Ludwigs University in Freiburg, Germany

In open letter of complaint to Goethe University, he said he was scheduled to give a lecture on the Thai political situation at the Freiberg Institute on July 6. The Thai embassy in Berlin telephoned the institute and asked if it could send a representative to attend the lecture. The institute rebuffed the embassy, informing it that the lecture was strictly academic activity and therefore would not allow it to be “politicized.”

“To me, this was another step of the Thai Embassy to put extra pressure on me, in order to prevent me from performing as an academic,” Pavin wrote. “The next day, on 7 July 2015, as I traveled to Berlin to give a briefing on the Thai political situation at the invitation of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, I participated in a protest organized by Thais in Berlin in front of the Royal Thai Embassy in Berlin, personally in order to call for the cessation of intervention of the Embassy in my academic activities in Germany. Nobody from the Embassy was willing to meet me on that day.”

On the same day, he said he received an email invitation from Kim Wehner, a student worker at the Southeast Asian Department at Goethe University and a member of the student council, inviting him to give a talk on the Thai political situation on a mutually agreed date.

In her email, Wehner told Pavin that “As your current situation appears to be a bit complicated, we cannot invite you officially in the name of the Department as we fear that the consulate will cut the money they donate to us. But still, the student council thinks that your talk will be very interesting, therefore we would like to try to manage it.”

Pavin agreed to speak on July 14 on political developments since the coup, only to be told minutes before the lecture that the organizers had canceled it under pressure from the Thai Consulate in Frankfurt because of a threat by the consulate to cut all the donations should the event take place.

“Reacting with anger and frustration, I condemned the organizers and called upon other students to help me protect academic freedom. Eventually, I defied the cancellation and insisted on giving a lecture. It was, eventually, a successful lecture.”

In his letter, he told the university he was writing “to alert you of a possibility that the department may compromise its duty to defend academic freedom in exchange for financial rewards from the Thai Consulate in Frankfurt. I would therefore kindly request you to look into and investigate this case, as I believe this will damage the reputation of Germany as a place for academic freedom and the integrity of the university itself.”

He has not yet received a response, he told Asia Sentinel.