BANGKOK - Thailand’s military has broadened its ongoing crackdown of media freedoms, canceling a Bangkok news conference over alleged abuses in Vietnam against ethnic minority Montagnards.
The news conference Friday led by the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch was stopped by local police who presented an official letter from the ruling junta saying the event threatened national security and bilateral relations.
The Human Rights Watch report was to detail abuses against a Christian ethnic minority in Vietnam, the Montagnards. But shortly before the event was to begin uniformed and plain clothes officers arrived at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand and began filming those present.
Journalist Veronica Pedrosa, a club director, said the junta or National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) referenced article Number 44 from the interim constitution granting military leaders wide discretionary powers.
“It was a paid event by Human Rights Watch. The NCPO through the Lumpini Police [station] has communicated to both the FCCT and to Human Rights Watch that they are under Article 44 requiring us to not hold this event because it is sensitive to Thai Vietnamese relations and it might cause instability and insecurity in Thailand,” said Pedrosa.
The report details abuses against the Montagnard Christian community in Vietnam's central highlands. Human Rights Watch said the report would highlight broader rights violations against religious minorities in the country.
Sunai Pasuk, Thailand researcher for Human Rights Watch, who spoke with the police officers at the journalists’ club, said the military’s steps marked further efforts to halt discussion of human rights in Thailand and the region.
“This is in every way an intervention by the NCPO to silence human rights reports, to silence human rights activists from having a stage to tell the world what is going on in each of the countries that have serious human rights violations. They consider reporting the human rights situation in Vietnam as an act that would undermine friendship and cooperation between Thailand and Vietnam and can jeopardize national security,” Sunai Pasuk stated.
Thai Foreign Ministry officials, according to the rights group, raised concerns the report’s contents may harm bilateral relations with Vietnam ahead of an official visit to Thailand by Vietnam’s prime minister.
Crackdowns on media freedoms
In a formal statement, Human Rights Watch expressed disappointment about the cancellation of the press event saying it was a violation of freedom of assembly and “contempt for freedom of the press”
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, called the military’s action “surprising” given the report made no links to Thailand, with many references to the Montagnards, based on Vietnamese language media.
“Where we’re talking about another country; we’re talking about Vietnam In the past there have been many reports released in Thailand about other countries and so it’s very surprising that in this case a report about Vietnam that didn’t involve Thailand in any way was not permitted to take place,” he said.
The intervention comes as the U.S. released its latest annual human rights report, which is critical of the junta’s human rights record since it took power in May last year.
The U.S. said the military had sharply curbed freedoms of speech and the press as well as temporarily detaining more than 900 people without charge.