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Thammasat University students and lecturers held a symbolic event in support of the fierce lèse majesté critic in exile, Somsak Jeamteerasakul, who was sacked by the university early this week due to his absence.   

At around 5:30 pm on Thursday, about ten people gathered at the statue of Puey Ungpakorn, a former rector of Thammasat University, at the Rangsit Campus and lit candles to show support for Somsak, a former history lecturer at the Faculty of Liberal Arts.

The event entitled ‘Lighting up the academic spirit’ was held after Somkit Lertpaithoon, the university rector, signed an order on Monday to terminate the employment of the historian as a punishment for being absent from the university for about nine months.

Students light candles at around 5:30 pm on Thursday to show support for Somsak at the statue of Puey Ungpakorn on Thammasat’s Rangsit Campus 

At the event Pongkwan Sawasdipakdi, a political science lecturer at Thammasat University, read a statement in support of Somsak and pointed out that the university should protect academic freedom especially during this time.   

“We urge the university to stop referring to university rules to limit and suspend the basic rights of academics given by the law. Although we don’t think that academics should have more rights than ordinary citizens, under these circumstances when there is no democracy, it is very important to protect academic freedom,” said the statement.

About five security officers in plain clothes came to monitor at the event.  

Somsak, 56, has been very active in criticizing Article 112 (the lèse majesté law) and encouraging reform of the institution of the monarchy. He himself faced a lèse majesté charge filed by the Army and faced countless acts of intimidation, including gunfire at his house. After Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha overthrew the government on 22 May 2014, the historian fled the country and is now in self-imposed exile in Europe. Somsak is also an expert on the killing of King Ananda.

A student representative reads out a statement in support for Somsak at the event 

Somsak requested leave of absence from 1 August 2014 to 31 July 2015 to pursue additional academic activities overseas, which is possible according to the university’s rules. However, the university did not grant him the request and demanded that he come back by December 2014 and teach the second semester of the 2014 academic year.

After he was informed that his request was not granted, Somsak submitted a resignation letter to the university in late December 2014. The university, however, did not accept his resignation request, but later decided to fire him instead, resulting in his pension being cancelled after 20 years of work at Thammasat.  

On Tuesday, Somsak posted on his Facebook page that he thinks it is his duty as a civil servant and as a member of Thammasat University not to comply with the coup-maker’s orders. The post was part of the statement which was submitted to the university administration earlier this month.

“I cannot continue to serve in my post and allow the staging of an unjustified rebellion. I consider that the highest duty that a citizen and civil servant or “a Thammasat person” can have is to resist the unlawful actions of the coup makers,” said the statement.

Students lighting candles to symbolise academic freedom under the rule of the junta

He pointed out in his statement that the military sent personnel to harass his family members for months and revoked his passport after he refused to cooperate with the junta.

Rebutting Somsak’s account, Col. Winthai Suvaree, spokesperson for the junta, said on Wednesday that the military never harassed Somsak, but merely visited his home because he failed to report to the junta, officially known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). The NCPO summoned and detained hundreds of politicians, activists, and academics for “attitude adjustment” in the wake of the coup.

The junta spokesperson also alleged that Somsak "presented insufficient information and distorted the facts" about the lèse majesté (insult of the monarchy) charges that the military filed against him in 2011 and 2014.

He added that Somsak's portrayal of the lèse majesté charges as an act of intimidation "is only a claim from the perspective of Somsak."

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