AAS-in-Asia presents an opportunity for scholars of Asia based in Asia and around the globe to share their research with one another and, in the process, to learn about the constraints under which scholars operate in various countries. The next AAS-in-Asia conference will be held in Bangkok, Thailand, July 1-4, 2019. Accordingly, the AAS officers would like to provide a brief summary of the academic climate in Thailand.
Since establishing a constitutional monarchy in 1932, Thailand has experienced 25 general elections and 12 coups d'état (an additional 7 attempts failed). Following its latest coup on May 22, 2014, Thailand has been ruled by a military junta. Faced with growing pressures, the government held elections on March 24, 2019. With election results not expected to be confirmed until after the May 4-6 coronation of Rama X and as various political parties negotiate to form a coalition government, the outcome of this latest election remains unclear.
In the wake of the 2014 coup, citizens have experienced varying degrees of censorship, ranging from bans on political gatherings and invitations for cautionary cups of coffee with military officers to arrest, imprisonment, and exile. Thailand is known for its highly restrictive lèse majesté laws, under which hundreds of people have been charged.
The political climate of the recent years has affected Thai scholars and, to a much lesser extent, some foreign scholars conducting research in Thailand. AAS members are most likely to be aware of the prosecution of Dr. Chayan Vaddhanaphuti and four others following the International Thai Studies Conference (ICTS) in 2017. Although these charges were dismissed on December 25, 2018, charges against other scholars remain and some activists are currently living in exile. It has also come to the attention of AAS that some foreign scholars have recently received additional questioning as they pass through immigration; however in no case that we are aware of has any of these scholars not been able to continue with their planned research or travel.
Thailand has no blanket visa ban on any given nationality (for visa details, see here). Many of the organizers of the AAS-in-Asia conference have themselves been active in Thailand’s pro-democracy movement and believe that international conferences such as AAS-in-Asia are important avenues towards the protection of academic freedom. Should there be any significant changes relevant to AAS-in-Asia, we will update accordingly.