NETIWIT CHOTIPHATPHAISAL, 22
Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal is a third-year Political Science student at Chulalongkorn University in Bang Lamphu Lang, Thailand. Chotiphatphaisal was the first sophomore to hold the position of leader of the student body and one whose term was the most short lived—a mere two months. He and seven other students staged a walk out from the university’s oath taking ceremony to express their disagreement with the existence of such a ritual. He also called for reforms in required military haircuts, the presence of authorities in schools, and the inefficient educational system. As a result, he was punished by having his behavioral scores permanently cut and barred from holding any other position in the university again. This sparked a public protest and outcry from as many as eight former recipients of the Nobel Prize and well-recognized academics from around the world. His notorious actions attracted the attention of Thailand’s Prime Minister, Prayut Chan-o-cha, who expressed his concern as to how it was that Netiwit had risen to assume this position.
Chotiphatphaisal is Thailand’s first conscientious objector who opposes mandatory conscription. He campaigns rigorously against conscription and actively calls for reforms in the military, which he identifies as the decline of Thai democracy. After his removal from office, Chotiphatphaisal focused his attention on Sam Nak Nisit Sam Yan, a printing press that he and his student colleagues founded. The publication’s main intention is to promote critical thinking as a driving force in pushing for a democratic spirit. Chotiphatphaisal has written more than five books reflecting on his personal experiences on Thai education and the university. He has also translated works that contribute towards democratic activities such as Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Isaiah Berlin’s essays, On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder, as well as essays by Chinese writer and human rights activist Liu Xiaobo. Chotiphatphaisal has many more translation projects in mind of writers and thinkers who have inspired him personally and whose ideas could contribute to the cause of Thailand’s democracy.
In 2018, Chotiphatphaisal was invited to address the Oslo Freedom Forum; the title of his talk was “The Student vs. the Military.” He believes democracy isn’t something that can come easily but should be a product of education and gatherings of members of society as well as the international community.
Why Do I Refuse to Attend the Fourth of July Reception?
By: Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal
I received the official invitation letter from the United States Embassy of Thailand two weeks ago. It was sent to the faculty of Chulalongkorn university. I learned from the letter that I'm invited to attend the 241st Independence Day celebration which will be held on the 29th of June at InterContinental hotel, Bangkok. As an ordinary student, of course, I’m genuinely delighted for such an opportunity. However, being invited to this event also made me question something. Why am I invited to this event? I'm not different from any other student. I've just always been true to myself. I've been promoting democracy within this decaying education system, both on campus and within the country, just like a citizen is supposed to do. I suppose that I’m invited to the event because the United States believes in the importance of democracy in Thailand, and also considers youth and people who value and fight for democracy important. As I've been involved in social activism, I’m indeed delighted to be invited. There have been so many Americans who fight for civil rights and freedom such as Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Eugene V. Debs, Eleanor D. Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. Therefore, being invited to the national Independence Day reception where there are so many thinkers, fighters, and leaders who value rights and freedom surely brings pleasure to me.
Nonetheless, I've been reconsidering the United States’ role and I realized that it’s contradictory to the American stance on democracy. The U.S. Embassy invited me as a student who fights for democracy, something the founding fathers of the United States value. The founding fathers of the United States established this country based on checks and balances, freedom of thought, and freedom of expression, which can only be found in a democratic country. On the contrary, the president of the United States, President Donald J. Trump, chose to invite General Prayuth Chan-ocha, a military coup leader, to the White House. Is this not contradictory? If the United States truly cares about human rights and democracy, why would they support a dictator who is responsible for violating human rights, detaining people who disagree with his regime, and banning freedom of expression in public and academic area? It’s clear that the military junta has been ruining democracy in many possible ways. Why has the United States, under the current administration, remained silent? Why aren’t they criticizing the military junta for abusing people in the nation? The people of the United States know very well how important rights and liberties are to them, as a popular saying is “Give me liberty or give me death.” We, Thai people deserve those rights and that freedom as well.
When I was elected president of the Student Council of Chulalongkorn University, I declared my vision clearly: “As a president, I will be a student leader who is different from those in the past. I will prove that politicians, those involved in politics, can truly give people hope. I will openly value and support democracy and free society. I will have the moral courage even in a time where people just follow and obey others and believe that it’s the only right thing you can do.”
How can I be happy celebrating Independence Day when my fellow friends, students, and all Thai people are not getting justice? How can I celebrate when they are not even allowed to express themselves? Recently, a student was arrested because he wanted to submit a petition at the Government House demanding the government disclose details of the Thai-Chinese train project. This is one of the cases that shows the junta’s ambiguity and oppression
I would like to show my appreciation and say thank you to the U.S. Ambassador of Thailand, Mr. Glyn T. Davies, for inviting me to the event. Also for the response on our statement about the Paris Agreement, which was sent to the White House and for the ambassador’s amiability towards Thailand. Davies and many embassy officers have clearly expressed their standpoint– supporting democracy and human rights and freedom. I truly hope that my statement makes it to the White House so the president can reconsider inviting Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha to the White House. I have no bad intentions towards the United States, I only want to express my standpoint. Under democratic regime, every voice matters. I hope they will listen to mine. The aforementioned reasons are why I have to politely turn down the invitation. I hope that the United States will consider our situation and how our rights and freedom are being decayed. I hope they take a stance to support democracy and be in Thailand’s good company in order to create a society where everyone is entitled to rights, freedom, and their individual joy of life.