Whistleblower released after being held for 4 days in Bangkok airport

Wyn Ellis
Wyn Ellis

A UK academic who’s lived in Thailand for decades has just been released from the Bangkok airport where he had been held for four days, the apparent result of his years-ago decision to expose a Thai official who had plagiarized his PhD thesis.

A university investigation several years ago eventually found that Wyn Ellis was, indeed, correct: Supachai Lorlowhakarn, a director of a Thai agency involved in intellectual property rights, had plagiarized 80% of his thesis about asparagus cultivation from other sources. In 2012, Times Higher Education reported that Supachai Lorlowhakarn lost his doctorate degree.

But when Ellis — a consultant and coordinator for the UN’s Sustainable Rice Platform based in Thailand — arrived at the Bangkok airport on Thursday, says The Guardian:

immigration officials showed him a 2009 letter in which Supachai describes him as a “danger to Thai society”.

Yesterday, he was freed:

The BBC posted some background on the case:

In 2008, Dr Ellis, who is originally from Swansea, spotted a dissertation on promoting organic agricultural products, in particular asparagus, that seemed familiar.

On reading it, he realised a lot of it had been copied from a report on a year-long study he had conducted for Thailand’s International Trade Centre two years earlier.

On further investigation he realised that nearly all of the dissertation had been copied from other sources; only in 14 pages out of 161, he says, could he not find clear evidence of plagiarism.

The dissertation had been submitted by Supachai Lorlowhakarn – director of Thailand’s National Innovation Agency (NIA), an organisation that promises to promote and protect intellectual property – for his PhD at Thailand’s elite Chulalongkorn University.

Ellis has also called for the retraction of a 2008 paper based on Supachai Lorlowhakarn’s thesis, published in the Thai Journal of Agricultural Science.

We received a statement from Ellis, who told us he was “treated well” during his detention:

My detention last week at Bangkok International Airport was instigated by a letter from Thailand’s National Innovation Agency (headed by Supachai) to the Immigration Department on 1 December 2009. The letter requested I be blacklisted as a “danger to Thai society.” However, I only became aware of this last Thursday on presentation of my UK passport at Thai Immigration.  At my request, the new NIA Director, Dr Pun-Arj Chairatana, immediately issued a letter retracting the original complaint, but the authorities were unable to act to remove my name from the blacklist and release me until 9pm yesterday.

I was treated well by the Immigration Department, who well understood the blacklisting  as the result of a personal vendetta. I was held in an airside holding room along with up to 25 other detainees. Whilst certainly not abundant in creature comforts, at least we were able to use our phones and laptops. The staff seemed as delighted as I when the good news finally broke.

However, there has been no other statement or apology from the National Innovation Agency.

Hat tip: Alice Dreger

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5 thoughts on “Whistleblower released after being held for 4 days in Bangkok airport”

  1. This is a curious case, and I am more interested in the wider picture that involves not only Thai scientists, but also Thai journals and Thai universities.

    Readers might be aware of Thai’s strict Lèse majesté and censorchip laws:

    How does criticism of Thai scientists, Thai journals, or Thai institutes fit into these laws, I wonder? In particular, within the context of whistle-blowing, and anonymous critiques in post-publication peer review?

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