As a United States citizen, I have the legally protected right of my freedom to speech. Until this semester in Thailand, I had never recognized how great of privilege this was for me. I had never had this right challenged before or taken away.
Following a military led coup in May 2014, a military junta and its elected prime minister is currently governing Thailand under martial law. The junta has imposed restrictions on the right to freedom to speech. Most apparently, its prevention of anyone in Thailand from speaking out against or in opposition to the coup, junta, military, or monarchy, such act is punishable by law.
As a student here, I have at times experienced the affects of these restrictions and deteriorated freedoms of Thailand's citizens. This has included my political science professors not able to publicly criticize the coup or military, the military shutting down conferences and university events in which Thailand’s governance may potentially be discussed, and our class being asked by the military to leave democracy monument in Bangkok during an educational field trip, where are professor was going to give us an on-site lecture. More recently, the junta temporarily blocked all access within Thailand to the Human Rights Watch website after it challenged the junta. However access to the Human Rights Watch website was quickly restored after an article was published noting the military's restriction of the website (http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/general/445752/thai-junta-blocks-human-r...). I think this was the most poignant moment for me of what power the military currently has in Thailand and the potential risks of that power, if mistreated, to the people of Thailand. For me, though luckily I only had to experience it for an incredibly short amount of time, it was scary to not have the capability to inform myself on the situation in Thailand from a reputable, impartial source.
After studying here, I have found an incredibly grateful appreciation for my many rights, particularly my right to freedom to speech. With this appreciation also comes a personal desire to promote free speech around the world. This network offers a tangible way for me do that in sharing, hearing, and supporting our voices!