Midnight University website shut down after protest
A website set up by scholars and intellectuals based in Chiang Mai was shut down after they held a high-profile protest against the draft interim constitution.
Somkiat Tangnamo, the webmaster and "rector" of Midnight University, said the shutdown of the website (www.midnightuniv.org) on Friday night led to the loss of 1,500 scholarly articles provided for free public education.
"This particular action is a threat against academic freedom, a threat against press freedom, and a threat against an important public sphere. It in effect removed the public sphere from the society, which is unacceptable and cannot be justified," he said.
Somkiat said his website, which he says receives more than 2.5 million visits per month from viewers around the world, had been shut down without official notice or any warning from the Information and Communi-cations Technology Ministry.
He said the ministry was authorised by the Council for Democracy Reform (CDR) to "control, block and destroy" all media coverage - including comment on the Internet - that would undermine the council.
Besides providing scholarly articles, the Midnight University website also "opened space" for the public to discuss social and political issues, Somkiat said.
ICT Ministry permanent secretary Kraisorn Pornsuthee said he did not know about the shutdown of the website and would ask for details from his officials.
The website was attacked after university scholars led by Somkiat held a press conference in Chiang Mai on Thursday to voice their disagreement with the interim constitution being written by the CDR.
Six scholars at Chiang Mai University and Midnight University - well-respected historian Nidhi Eawseewong, Worawit Charoenlert, Somchai Preecha-silpakul, Chatchawan Boonpan, Kriengsak Chetwattanawanich and Somkiat - launched what they called a symbolic campaign by wearing black shirts and tearing down a mock-up of the draft interim charter at the press conference.
Many scholars joined Somkiat in gathering signatures for a campaign to pressure for the reversal of what they called an unjustifiable violation by the authorities of the Thai people's right to information and free expression.
Kasian Tejapira, a political scientist at Thammasat University, said in an e-mail sent to his academic network worldwide that the Midnight University website was "the foremost free and critical educational and public intellectual website in Thailand".
"This is not only a huge loss to academic and intellectual freedom in Thai society, but also the closure of a free forum for the contention of ideas so as to find a peaceful alternative to violent conflict in Thailand," he wrote.
An online petition opposing the crackdown on the website was being written by Pitch Pongsawat, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, and Thongchai Winichakul, a historian at the University of Wisconsin Madison.