BANGKOK – Thailand’s military and police have suppressed the release of an independent report assessing human rights in the kingdom during the first 100 days of the latest coup. A panel discussion on the topic was canceled by the organizers, fearing arrest if they did not comply with a letter from military leaders telling them not to hold the meeting.
As organizers were explaining to reporters why they felt it prudent to cancel a human rights panel discussion and delay the release of a report on freedoms, police officers entered the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand.
A policeman handed copies of what was termed a request for cooperation from the 1st Calvalry Division of the King’s Guard, acting on behalf of the National Council for Peace and Order.
A policeman told the three panelists from Amnesty International, the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights and the Cross Cultural Foundation he has a personal copy of the letter – which had earlier been faxed to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club – for each of them. The letter asked them not to hold the human rights event.
Martial law was declared in Thailand two days before the May 22 coup and remains in effect. There are restrictions on any meetings considered of a political nature or activities deemed critical of the junta. Freedom of the press has been restricted.
Pawinee Chumsri, with the organization Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, says in light of the situation it was deemed prudent to comply with the authorities’ request to stop the event.
Pawinee says the groups consider the call to cancel the event a violation of their freedom of expression and the right of citizens to receive information about the human rights situation in the country.
She promised the report on human rights in Thailand would be released by other means in the near future.
The organizations had been poised to detail complaints to the hotline of the lawyers’ organization regarding alleged human rights violations during the first 100 days under the junta.
General Prayuth Chan-ocha, the army chief who deposed Thailand’s civilian government, said on Tuesday the junta will focus on internal security now that the Cabinet is taking office. He also stated martial law needs to remain in effect, for now, to maintain order.
An appointed legislature, handpicked by the army chief, last week unanimously approved the general as the country’s prime minister – he was the only candidate.
Twelve members of the Prayuth Cabinet are active or retired officers of the security forces.
Some international rights organizations have condemned the Thai military’s detention of politicians, activists and journalists. Most of those held have been released after a week or less with warnings, but some face criminal charges.
The junta says its mission is to return happiness to the Thai people after an extended period of political turmoil. General Prayuth has promised general elections before the end of next year after a sweeping reform of the country’s political structure.
By Steve Herman a veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.