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Thailand Halts News Conference on Vietnam's Human Rights Record

President of Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, Vo Van Ai (file photo)

President of Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, Vo Van Ai (file photo)

Thailand has refused two human rights advocates entry into the country to prevent them from holding a news conference about a report on conditions in Vietnam.

Vo Van Ai and Penelope Faulkner were to introduce the report on Vietnam at a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand.

But the Thai government refused to grant them visas. The sponsors of the report - the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights and the International Federation for Human Rights Club canceled the event.

Last week, the Thai Foreign Ministry pushed the FCC to call off the news conference, an action the club called unfortunate.

Outside pressure

A political scientist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, Thitinan Pongsudhirak, says he thinks Vietnam, which holds the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, pressured Thailand to halt the news conference.

"So I think if this request came from Vietnam - which I suspect it is - then Thailand would want to keep its head low and bow to the Vietnamese request," Thitinan said. "Thailand is at a low point in its foreign policy standing."

The Foreign Ministry, in its statement to the FCC, said while Thailand places "great importance" on the principles of freedom of expression and diversity of views, it also had a long-standing position of not allowing Thailand to be used to conduct activities detrimental to other countries.

Thitinan calls the statement "disingenuous".

"It is incorrect for the Foreign Ministry to say that Thailand is not a platform to attack neighboring countries. That is true in principle but we had many, many forums and conferences and press conferences here in Thailand that impinges on human rights and democracy issues in nearby and next door countries," Thitinan said. "So Thailand is not in a position to stand up for human rights issues at this time."

The ministry did not respond to requests for interviews Monday.

Widespread criticism

Thailand has come under domestic and international criticism for curtailing media freedoms this year in an effort to halt anti-government protests. It has shut down hundreds of Web sites and scores of radio stations that support the protesters. Hundreds of protesters were arrested, and many parts of the country, including Bangkok remain under emergency law, which restricts political gatherings.

Vietnam also has come under increasing criticism over human rights. Advocacy groups say among other abuses, Vietnam detains many leading writers and bloggers and the government has attacked followers of a prominent Buddhist monk.

The Vietnamese government rejects those complaints. It has told the United Nations it does not hold prisoners of conscience and denies abusing detainees.