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AAA Advocates for Academic Freedom in Thailand

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August 21, 2017

General Prayut Chan-ocha
Prime Minister of Thailand
Government House
1 Phitsanulok Road
Dusit 10300
Bangkok, Thailand

via Email:

Your Excellency,

The American Anthropological Association (AAA) is extremely alarmed to learn that Dr. Chayan Vaddhanaphuti (Anthropologist, PhD 1976, Stanford), a very senior and respected Thai academic, and four other Thai researchers recently received summons accusing them of violating the Thai military regime's ban on political gatherings of five or more persons.

Apparently, the summons are a response to the organization of the International Conference on Thai Studies hosted in July by Chiang Mai University and chaired by Dr. Vaddhanaphuti. The conference is the main international scholarly forum for presentation and discussion of research on Thailand and Southeast Asia more broadly. It has been held every three years since 1981, hosted by universities in Thailand, Australia, China, India, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States.  

In addition to being highly respected in Thailand, Dr. Vaddhanaphuti is also prominent in well-regarded international academic circles. He is currently coordinating a large international consortium of academics and civil society groups studying the relationship between climate change mitigation politics, resource grabbing and conflict in Cambodia and Myanmar. The project is funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). Perhaps more importantly, Dr. Vaddhanaphuti is deeply respected within academia, civil society and Thai government ministries  and has carried out cutting-edge scientific work on critical rural issues in Thailand that have direct policy implications.

Founded in 1902, the AAA is the world’s largest professional anthropology organization, with 10,000 members in the United States and many nations across the globe, including Thailand. Our mission is to advance understanding through anthropological research, and to apply that understanding to tackling some of the world’s most pressing problems.

The American Anthropological Association respects the sovereignty and rights of national governments to uphold the rule of law and serve the interests of their citizens. At the same time, where government policies and practices impose unreasonable limitations on teaching, learning, and scholarly research, these policies and practices pose a fundamental threat to the advancement of understanding. Academic freedom is essential for researchers, teachers, and students to advance the purpose of institutions of higher education in service of the common good.

In that light we respectfully urge the government of Thailand to immediately withdraw the summons against Dr. Chayan Vaddhanaphuti, Ms. Pakawadee Veerapatpong, Mr. Chaipong Samnieng, Mr. Nontawat Machai, and Mr. Thiramon Bua-ngam. We also urge the government to ease the restriction on free and open discussion, and support academics/students in their conduct of scholarly teaching, research, public discussion and debate, on- and off-campus. 

Dr. Vaddhanaphuti’s work and the work of the other scholars summoned is ultimately to the benefit of the Thai people and of humankind. We appeal to your appreciation of sound scholarship to withdraw the charges against them and secure their release.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your positive response. 


Prof. Dr. Alisse Waterston
President, AAA

Dr. Edward Liebow
Executive Director, AAA


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