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Khon Kaen University has terminated the work permit of David Eirich Streckfuss, an independent academic who oversees the Council on International Educational Exchange programme at the University. The decision reportedly came after police visited the University President and Faculty Dean, after Streckfuss participated in a workshop which partly involved decentralization.

The university announcement stating the end of Streckfuss's contract.

According to the university announcement, Streckfuss’s contract at the Faculty of Public Health from 15 August 2020 to 15 August 2021, was cancelled on 19 March 2021 due to his “inability to work as designated”.

Since 19 March, Streckfuss has been living in Thailand on a 30-day visa which will expire next Monday. He is now trying to acquire a work permit with the Buffalo Birds Production Co., a company that produces documentaries and organizes events where he is working as a coordinator. Immigration police came to interview him and the employer for the third time on 16 April.

Immigration police interviewing an employee at the Buffalo Birds Co.

Buffalo Birds is a registered company of The Isaan Record, a local online media outlet based in Khon Kaen.

Streckfuss, who has been living in Thailand for over 20 years, said this is the first time that his work permit has been cancelled in this manner. He also said that he was informed by the University that the cancellation came after police officers visited the University President and the Faculty Dean.

Hathairat Phaholtap, editor of the Isaan Record, also said that the work permit cancellation and the visit were made after Streckfuss attended a workshop about the preservation and development of the locan Isaan identity which was held at a Khon Kaen hotel on 12-14 February. 

Hathairat said the workshop participants were academics, NGO staff and also activists. The police were reportedly spotted as they tried to follow and monitor some activists who attended the workshop. 

Pol Maj Gen Kridsada Kanjanaarlongkon, Commander of Immigration Division 4 said the interviews were a regular procedure when foreigners submitted a visa extension. Immigration Division 4 is now waiting for a decision from Khon Kaen Immigration.

Streckfuss is known for his expertise on the royal defamation law in Thailand. In 2010, he wrote “Truth on Trial in Thailand: Defamation, treason and lèse-majesté”.

Foreigners’ political participation is restricted

Nadthasiri Bergman, a lawyer from NSP Legal Office, is taking care of Streckfuss’s case. She said that foreigners in Thailand are very unlikely to be able to attend political activities as visa regulations can be interpreted in a very narrow scope. For example, if an individual’s visa is based on a work permit, they must live and work according to the details on the permit. If a foreigner were to attend a political activity, they would be watched by the authorities.

In 2019, Yan Marchal, a French expat, was asked by police to remove his viral music video mocking the then junta leader, Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha. He was also asked to sign a memorandum admitting that the music video was an “improper act” and that he was “now repenting for the bad action and will not do it again.”

In November 2020, he faced visa difficulties again when he was detained by Immigration after his visa expired and he faced deportation. Immigration later stated that it was Marchal’s misunderstanding.

In August 2020, Richard Barrow, an English blogger well known for tourism promotion in Thailand, was visited by Immigration officers saying that his visa extension may not be renewed. This came after he translated news about the 10 August protest at Thammasat University, a landmark protest which addressed monarchy reform.

After Barrow’s situation gained wide public attention, he tweeted that immigration officers had accepted his visa extension form.

Nadthasiri, who dealt with Marchal’s case in 2020, said that what should also be considered here is the government’s sensitivity. In a democratic country where human rights and freedoms are respected, foreigners would not be expected to talk only about the good aspects of the country.

The Isaan Record was founded in 2001 by Lizzie Presser and Glenn Brown, two Americans who taught English language at KKU under the Princeton in Asia programme of Princeton University. In its early years, Presser, Brown and another Isaan interpreter went around Isaan to cover various issues.

The Isaan Record aims to present issues about society, politics and new perspectives regarding Thailand and Northeastern Thailand (Isaan). Public accessibility is one of the original intentions of the agency.

On 20 April, 2021, 16.14, Prachatai English has added the content about the founding of the Isaan Record.

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