Amnesty International (AI) on Wednesday canceled a Bangkok news conference where it was to unveil a report about torture carried out by Thailand’s military, after Thai officials threatened legal action against its representatives, a lawyer for the rights watchdog said.
The official release of the report that documents 74 cases of alleged torture under Thailand’s two-year-old junta was disrupted because officials from the Ministry of Labor came to conference venue and warned the human rights group that its panelists could be arrested for lacking work permits, AI legal counsel Yuval Ginbar told reporters.
“I am personally based in London. I have a business visa for the whole year. I’m allowed to be [here] until December for the purpose of business. Human rights is [the focus of] my business and they know that. I don’t see why I shouldn’t do my business here,” said Ginbar, who was scheduled to appear on the panel. He spoke at a Bangkok hotel where the report’s launch was to have taken place.
“The authorities said to us that … if any representatives from Amnesty International spoke at the event they would be in violation of Thailand’s labor laws,” Agence France-Presse quoted him as saying.
‘Actions speak louder than words’
Amnesty’s report, titled “‘Make Him Speak by Tomorrow’: Torture and Other Ill-Treatment in Thailand,” details allegations of torture carried out by the military against suspected separatist insurgents from the country’s Deep South as well as suspected drug users, members of ethnic minorities, migrants and others.
According to the report that documents allegations of beatings of prisoners, suffocation with plastic bags, water boarding, electric shocks of the genitals and other forms of torture, such abuses have increased since the military toppled a civilian-led government in May 2014.
“Thailand may claim to be tough on torture, but actions speak louder than words. Empowered by laws of their own making, Thailand’s military rulers have allowed a culture of torture to flourish, where there is no accountability for the perpetrators and no justice for the victims,” Rafendi Djamin, AI’s director for South East Asia and the Pacific, said in a statement issued earlier on Wednesday.
Since seizing power the National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO) – the formal name for the junta – has drawn international criticism for clamping down on human rights by arresting people under Thailand’s strict royal defamation law and, among others, activists who have spoken out against a controversial draft charter being pushed by the military.
Earlier this month, as Thailand prepared to undergo a periodic review of its climate for rights before the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, the junta announced that it would not prosecute new cases of civilians being tried before military courts on charges related to national security.
The cancellation of Wednesday’s news conference in Bangkok “raises serious questions about the ability of international organizations to stage public events in Thailand,” said Laurent Meillan, the acting regional representative for the U.N. Human Rights Office for Southeast Asia, according to the Associated Press.
“This incident is another striking illustration of a new pattern of harassment of human rights defenders documenting torture in Thailand,” Meillan told AP.
‘Within the legal framework’
NCPO spokesman Col. Piyapong Klinpan said he was not aware of Wednesday’s cancellation.
“Based on the factual information since the NPCO took over the power to administer the country, the NCPO has been cautious in using power in every aspect,” he told BenarNews, saying that the regime had to impose martial law early on to maintain order.
“[A]fter the situation got better, we eased all enforcement,” he said, adding, “To do anything outside of legal framework, we cannot do so. Every single official exercises their power within legal framework.”