Thailand

Anti-diploma presentation campaigners call off activities

Anti-diploma presentation campaigners call off activities

Activists decry police security scanning of ID cards to flag personal information

Their Majesties present diplomas to Thammasat University students on Friday. (Photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)
Their Majesties present diplomas to Thammasat University students on Friday. (Photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

A group that campaigned against accepting diplomas in a ceremony has called off its activities at Thammasat University after its documents and equipment were seized.

Supanat Kingkaew, a co-leader of the “Thammasat Graduates for the People” group, said on Saturday the university’s administration had seized 96 of 112 copies of its version of the diplomas issued by what it called the “University for the People and Politics”. The group had prepared to stage a parallel diploma handover ceremony outside the auditorium on the same day the real one was held for the second day on Saturday.

Its leaflets with a QR code for a “big surprise” were also taken. The big surprise turned out to be a TikTok video of Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a self-exiled Thai academic charged with lese majeste who now lives in Japan. The video shows Mr Pavin congratulating new graduates and reminding them their success depends on themselves and their parents who paid for their tuition, not anybody else.

Some other students on campus decided to make their own statement by having their pictures taken accepting diplomas from cardboard cutouts of Mr Pavin and Somsak Jeamteerasakul, a self-exiled academic and critic of the monarchy.

Earlier on Saturday, Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw) reported that police from the Bung Kum police station and the Technology Crime Suppression Division scanned the ID cards of people entering Thammasat University on Friday.

If a student did not apply to attend the diploma presentation ceremony, the scanning device would show a purple badge on the screen and the police would take photos of them. They would then be allowed to enter only if a new graduate confirmed they were his relatives or friends.

The police also put pink stickers on those with records of mental illnesses, saying such patients could “break down anytime”.

This raised the question of how a person’s medical records, which should have been confidential, ended up in police database. 

A student whose screen showed a red badge claimed to see that he was described as “refused to attend the diploma presentation ceremony” and “ has a political view of…”

After the reports of such screening, the Thai Academic Network for Civil Rights issued a statement urging Thammasat University to give explanations and take responsibility for the violation of the privacy of students and other people ahead of the ceremony.

The screening has raised questions about whether the university had shared personal data of the students with authorities.

The network wanted the university’s administration to give a clear answer who gave the authorities permission to share the data. They also demanded criminal and disciplinary action against those responsible for privacy violations.

The screening has also raised the question of whether the chips in national ID cards could be better used to hold useful data that helps facilitate people when they contact government offices, instead of being used to keep records of people's political views. 

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