The Vietnamese government succeeded Friday in persuading Thailand to shut down a news conference in Bangkok, where a human rights group was scheduled to release a report detailing persecution of the ethnic Montagnard minority in Vietnam’s Central Highlands.
The same day, Thai authorities arrested 14 students who had been staging anti-junta protests in Bangkok this week in defiance of a ban by Thailand’s junta on public gatherings.
“The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT) received a written order from the Royal Thai Police at 10.34 am on Friday 26 June, issued on behalf of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), to cancel a press conference by U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) for the release of its new report,” the FCCT said in a statement.
“The FCCT complied with the written request, which was also sent to HRW.”
The Royal Thai Police had received a request from Vietnam to keep a close watch on the event, according to Col. Pornchai Chalordet, superintendent of the Lumpini Police station.
The cancellation reportedly marked the third time in June that Thai authorities had ordered press-related events to be cancelled at the club.
At least a dozen police officers and a police truck were waiting outside the FCCT, and police announced the cancellation minutes before the news conference was scheduled to start.
HRW expressed disappointment at the Thai government’s action that blocked the news conference at which it planned to release its 33-page report on Vietnam’s alleged mistreatment of Christian Montagnards. The report has since been released on its website.
“By stepping in to defend a neighboring state’s human rights violations against a group of its people and interrupting a scheduled press conference, Thailand’s military junta is violating freedom of assembly and demonstrating its contempt for freedom of the press,” Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director, said in a statement released after the cancelation.
“This action today is just the latest indication that Thailand is choosing to side with dictatorships in ASEAN while further stepping up repression at home.”
On Thursday afternoon, Khun Sek Wannamethee, director-general of the Thai Department of Information, had called HRW’s office in Bangkok to “consult” with it about the news conference, Robertson alerted reporters in an email sent earlier on Friday.
“He [Khun Sek] stated it was a ‘sensitive’ matter that could impact on Thai-Vietnam relations and added that the Vietnam PM was coming on a visit to Thailand soon, and asked whether this couldn’t be done somewhere else, like Singapore,” Robertson said in the email.
Encroachments on freedoms
Friday’s cancellation marked the latest infringement on freedom of the press in Thailand, where the military seized power from the civilian-led government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in May 2014.
The junta then imposed martial law and, earlier this year, replaced it with absolute power by invoking Article 44 of Thailand’s interim constitution.
According to the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OCHCR), Article 44 empowers the military, among other things, to restrict the press and freedom of public assembly by arresting groups of five or more people who gather for protests.
On Friday, Thai police took 14 students into custody for allegedly staging a series of protests against the junta’s rule.
“We’ve caught them all, according to the arrest warrants, and the next step is to tell them what they are accused of,” Reuters quoted Wutthichai Suponthawit, deputy superintendent of the Samrat Rat police station in Bangkok, as saying.
“We will now jail them.”