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A defamation lawsuit filed against political scientist Kullada Kesboonchoo Mead by descendants of Rangsit Prayurasakdi, Prince of Chai Nat, over a PhD thesis and books written by Kullada’s former advisee Nattapol Chaiching, has been dropped. Meanwhile, the Rangsit clan is to proceed with its lawsuits against Nattapol and his publisher Same Sky Books.

Kullada Kesboonchoo Mead (file photo)

Mom Rajawongse Priyanandana Rangsit, a granddaughter of the Prince of Chai Nat, filed a defamation lawsuit against historian Nattapol Chaiching, demanding 50 million baht in damages. She alleges that Nattapol’s books “Dream the Impossible Dream” (“ขอฝันใฝ่ในฝันอันเหลือเชื่อ”) and “The Junta, the Lords, and the Eagle” (“ขุนศึก ศักดินา พญาอินทรี”) contain misleading information about her grandfather, damaging his reputation.

She also sued Kullada, a former lecturer at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science, who supervised Nattapol’s PhD thesis; Chaithawat Tulathon, editor for “Dream the Impossible Dream”; Anchalee Maneeroj, editor of “The Junta, the Lords, and the Eagle”; Same Sky Books, the publisher of both volumes; and Same Sky Books editor-in-chief Thanapol Eawsakul.

Chulalongkorn University, the institution where Nattapol completed his PhD and the copyright holder of his thesis, was originally also listed as a defendant in the lawsuit, but the Court dismissed the suit on the ground that the university is not connected to the case.

According to Same Sky Books, Chulalongkorn University has already suspended circulation of Nattapol’s thesis, which currently cannot be found in the university’s research repository.

Lawyer Winyat Chatmontree said following a witness examination hearing at the Ratchadaphisek Civil Court on 20 June that Priyanandana has agreed to drop the lawsuit against Kullada, after a discussion between Kullada and the Rangsit clan, during which the defendant explained her role in her former advisee’s thesis and that she should not be sued if the thesis was done properly according to the academic process.

However, Priyanandana did not drop the lawsuit filed against Nattapol and Same Sky Books. Meanwhile, Kullada decided to also drop the lawsuit she filed against Priyanandana for exercising her right to file a complaint in bad faith and unlawfully.

Nattapol’s thesis, titled “Thai Politics in Phibun’s Government Under the U.S. World Order (1948-1957),” explores US intervention in Thailand during the period leading up to the 1957 military coup led by Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat.

An article by Thongchai Winichakul and Tyrell Haberkorn, published on the New Mandala website, noted that Nattapol’s thesis contained an error construed by “some (royalist) academics and the Rangsit clan” as “seriously damaging to the monarchy.”  It asserted that the Prince of Chai Nat as regent interfered with the government by attending cabinet meetings. The article also notes that “The Junta, the Lords, and the Eagle” contains extensive revisions and does not have the mistake.

In his thesis, Nattapol cited a Bangkok Post article from 18 December 1950 which reported that the Prince of Chai Nat had been frequently attending cabinet meetings, a move which was said to have upset the then-Prime Minister Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram. The Bangkok Post has denied that it ever reported this information.

In 2021, Same Sky Books also published a revised version of “Dream the Impossible Dream,” in which the text has been amended, removing the aforementioned mistake. The publisher also said that the mistake was unintentional and does not affect the overall content of the book. Those who purchased the 1st edition of the book were also welcome to exchange their copy for the revised version free of charge.

In 2018, Chaiyan Chaiyaporn, lecturer at the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, demanded that Nattapol’s thesis be revised to remove the mistake. He also allegedly accused Nattapol of falsifying the information to damage the monarchy and demanded that he be punished. The New Mandala article also said that Chaiyan allegedly threatened Nattapol with a royal defamation charge, but that Chaiyan denied this allegation.

A 2018 investigation by the thesis examination committee and the Faculty of Political Science found that the mistake was unintentional. Nattapol requested the Chulalongkorn Graduate School to allow him to revise his thesis, but his request was denied.

It has also been alleged that a 2022 investigation was not conducted properly. In an open letter published by Matichon Weekly in August 2022, Chulalongkorn University Council member and Faculty of Engineering lecturer Khemarath Osathaphan said that Nattapol was never informed that he was accused of using a false reference in his thesis in the form of an article published in the Independence Daily newspaper of 10 November 1947 and did not ask Nattapol to submit the document he used. Khemarath said that this violates Nattapol’s right to defend himself against these accusations, and violates his right to due process, as the Council was aware that the investigation was not conducted properly but proceeded nonetheless, which could mean that the entire investigation was void and must start over.

One of Chaiyan’s accusations against Nattapol was that the Independence Daily, called “Ekkarat” in Thai, did not exist in 1947. Chaiyan claimed that it was founded in 1948 by a printing press called Ekkarat, and that because of this, Nattapol could not have used it to back his claim that King Bhumibol and Princess Srinagarinda were aware of the plan to stage a military coup in 1947. However, the newspaper referenced in Natapol’s thesis was a different newspaper founded before 1947 by writer and journalist Issara Amantakul, while the newspaper Chaiyan referred to was a local newspaper in Lampang.

Khemarath’s open letter stated that the fact that the 10 November 1947 issue of the Independence Daily did in fact exist meant that the investigating committee presented misinformation to the Council and used it to wrongly accuse Nattapol, meaning that Council members were not given correct information when making their decision.

Khemarath noted that the Committee sent Nattapol’s thesis, along with Chaiyan’s complaint, to 4 experts, 1 of whom said that the content of the thesis and its citations are acceptable and only need small improvements. The Committee then sent the experts’ replies to Nattapol, who submitted written explanations to the 4 experts, only one of whom replied, which Khemarath said could mean that 3 of the experts were satisfied with Nattapol’s explanations.

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