American David Streckfuss’s visa has not been revoked as Immigration Bureau officers confirm his application for an extension is under review by officers at Division 4 of the service in Khon Kaen. An editor with a news website, founded by the academic, said in a Facebook message this weekend that officers had visited the office of the firm that runs the news service up to three times as part of the visa application process and have questioned staff working there.
Senior officials at Khon Kaen University have rejected claims that a long time US professor working with the institution’s student exchange programme linked with a US non-profit organisation was let go because of political activism in March. It comes as a senior Immigration Bureau officer has also rubbished claims that the man’s visa has been revoked saying a process is underway where an extension to stay in Thailand is under review by officers.
Immigration Bureau officers in Khon Kaen have denied that the current hiatus over a visa application by a respected and published US academic, Mr David Streckfuss, was reportedly linked to political matters after it emerged this week that he had been dismissed from his position at the university where he has worked since 1994 as the director of the Council on International Educational Exchange, a US non-profit organisation that ran a programme in association with the university in northeast Thailand which sent exchange students to the country.
It is understood the programme has been unable to function properly since June 2020 because of the worldwide virus pandemic.
American now applying for a visa extension as an employee of a firm that runs a new website he founded
The Commander of the Immigration Bureau Division 4 in Khon Kaen, Lieutenant Colonel Krisada Kanchanalongkorn, said at the weekend that the reason for the delay was normal processing requirements relating to Mr Streckfuss’s new application for a visa extension, which is being made through an operating company linked to a political news website The Isaan Record which, it is understood, was established by the academic.
The Immigration Bureau officer explained that it is not true that the American’s visa has been revoked. He revealed the current application is for an extension to stay and live in Thailand.
Claims that university officials were visited by police in February after holding a political event
It is reported the professor has applied to work at the news site he founded after being let go by Khon Kaen University in March.
Over the weekend, Hathairat Phahonthap, the editor of The Isaan Record news website, on a Facebook post, claimed that senior officials at Khon Kaen University had been visited by police officers in February in connection with Mr Streckfuss after he organised a public event.
Visa application has seen police visit the news service’s office to confirm the status of his position
She explained that after he was made redundant from his position at the university, he had applied to work for the company that operates the news website and was also seeking a work permit from authorities.
She said the application has resulted in several visits to the news firm’s offices by police.
‘Currently, it is stuck in the immigration process which has seen an investigation team to interrogate company employees 3 times, but there is no indication when we will get an answer,’ she said.
Immigration Bureau officials have suggested that it is not unusual in an application like this to ensure that the business is a bona fide place of employment.
Seminar on Isan’s identity and decentralisation attended by political figures and experts
Mr Streckfuss is reported to have organised a seminar or event in February focusing on the identity of the Isan region and decentralisation attended by local activists and experts.
The academic is the author of a book titled ‘Truth on Trial in Thailand’ which deals in an in-depth, comprehensive and incisive manner with Thailand’s defamation laws, the lèse-majesté provisions under Article 112 of the Criminal Code and Thailand’s ongoing political struggles.
The book was published by Routledge Press, a distinguished British international publishing concern in 2011.
The American holds a PhD in Southeast Asian history from the University of Wisconsin Madison and has lived in Thailand for over 30 years.
American has claimed the event led to a police visit
Mr Streckfuss has claimed a visit by police to meet senior officials at Khon Kaen University took place after this event in which the officers met the Dean and Chancellor of the institution and acquainted them with the foreigner’s political activities outside his academic work.
The university renewed the American’s annual contract on August 15th last and it was to run until August 2021.
University denies media reports and claims of a police visit or any political consideration in its move
The university has, for its part, come forward to deny there was any political motive behind the decision to part company with the professor.
On Saturday, Associate Professor Charnchai Pangthongviriyakul stated the position categorically.
‘No police or any other state officials met and pressured the university or dean of the faculty to terminate the contract of Mr Streckfuss, as reported by the media,’ he said.
He reiterated that the reason for the move by the respected third level institution was the inability to find exchange students because of the hiatus created by the ongoing virus crisis.
American never on staff at Khon Kaen University
He also pointed out that Mr Streckfuss was not a full-time staff member at Khon Kaen University but a representative of the Council on International Educational Exchange and it is understood he did not receive a salary for this work.
Mr Streckfuss formerly wrote for the Bangkok Post newspaper in 2013 and 2014 and has also been published by the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
The news website founded by him, The Isaan Record, has featured articles providing a deep analysis of the background to the ongoing political struggle in Thailand including pronouncements of student leaders behind the recent anti-establishment protests in Bangkok.
Panel discussion at Foreign Correspondents’ Club in March on Article 112 regarding lèse-majesté
In March this year, he attended the Foreign Correspondents Club in Thailand (FCCT) in Bangkok where he took part in a panel discussion on Article 112 and its use by authorities in relation to the current political protests.
In recent weeks, the street protests and rallies in Bangkok and other parts of the kingdom have been tamed by robust police prosecutions of those involved in protests and the strengthening virus wave which is leading to activists themselves reconsidering their position as the level of infection rises.
Thailand spotlighted as world refocuses on Southeast Asia due to Myanmar and tensions with China
The controversy surrounding the academic’s visa will do little to dispel the anxiety that Thailand, despite its return to democracy in 2019, is losing ground in terms of human rights and democracy.
Indeed, the March 2019 election and 2017 constitution have recently become the subject of critical analysis by an international media that is sympathetic to the pro-democracy movement and which often fails to understand the complex nature of Thai politics and society.
The violent uprising in Myanmar and the anti-government protests in Thailand, which began in July last year, have refocused media attention on the country and the Southeast Asian region as tensions between a more authoritarian China and the United States have escalated sharply.
Authorities emphasise a commitment to human rights in Thailand and the freedom of the press
Thai authorities, at the same time, emphasise that the government is working to improve human rights and respects the freedom of the press which has far more latitude than in many other Southeast Asian countries.
However, the use of Article 112, which carries severe penalties, against activists and protest leaders has firmly focused the attention on freedom of expression in the kingdom.
In response, official sources argue that this is necessary because of the singular importance of the monarchy in Thai society.
Country’s press freedom ranking has fallen sharply since 2004 and the heyday of PM Thaksin Shinawatra
Thailand was listed 140th in the World Press Freedom ranking for 2020, a schedule produced annually by Reporters without Borders. This showed an improvement on some previous years.
However, in 2004, before the first of two military coups which shunted the country away from a popular political movement supported by a dynamic economic programme led by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was, ironically, no stranger himself to friction with the press, the country was ranked 59th out of 167 countries.
This slide or fall in the rankings since 2004 illustrates perhaps not so much a dramatic change in reality on the ground but certainly the perception of press freedom in Thailand from the outside.