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Thirteen Foreign Envoys Dent Protocol Breech for Observing Arrest of Future Forward Leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit

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BANGKOK – Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has strongly condemned the actions of foreign ambassadors of Western nations who sent representatives to observe Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s reporting to police, accusing them of interfering in Thailand’s internal affairs and showing partiality.

A ministry statement posted only in Thai on its website late on Wednesday night said that ambassadors and acting ambassadors of Australia, Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, New Zealand, the European Union, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States were called in for discussions with the deputy permanent secretary supervising bilateral issues at the ministry on Wednesday and Thursday.

The deputy permanent secretary expressed disappointment and concern on the presence of the embassies’ representatives at Pathumwan police station in Bangkok last Saturday, when Mr Thanathorn acknowledged sedition and related charges.

“It creates a picture that can be interpreted as a show of moral support for Mr Thanathorn and siding with a party in the present context of Thai politics,” the Foreign Ministry statement said.

“The act is beyond their diplomatic role, is equivalent to interfering with the internal affairs of Thailand and violates diplomatic protocol under Section 41 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961.”

The deputy permanent secretary for foreign affairs asked the ambassadors and acting ambassadors to prevent a recurrence of the incident, the ministry wrote.

Meanwhile, Western foreign Ambassadors responded on Wednesday to charges from Thailand’s foreign ministry that they violated protocol by observing a Thai politician being charged by police with sedition, calling their action standard diplomatic practice.

They were responding to Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, who said Tuesday that foreign countries are barred from closely observing such internal procedures “not only by etiquette, but also by rules and regulations that the whole world abides by.” His ministry on Wednesday accused the diplomats of intervening in Thai politics.

Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit shakes hands with his supporters as he stands alongside the First Secretary of the French Embassy in Thailand Christophe Carlucci (left) and Counsellor of the German Embassy in Thailand Alexander Nowak (right) at a police station in Bangkok.

Thirteen foreign diplomats were present Saturday at a Bangkok police station where Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of a popular new political party, acknowledged charges of sedition and other crimes. Thanathorn says the charges are politically motivated.

Mr Thanathorn’s Future Forward Party ran a strong third in last month’s general election and positions itself as being opposed to political interference by Thailand’s powerful military. Several criminal complaints and protests to election authorities have already been lodged against Mr Thanathorn and his party.

The election results are to be certified by May 9, and the contending parties are maneuvering to establishing alliances or have opponents disqualified.

The Thai foreign minister on Tuesday had complained informally, but his ministry on Wednesday issued a diplomatic note “to register our displeasure and concern”.

It charged that the diplomats’ action violated an article in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations that says diplomats “have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs” of the nation in which they are stationed.

Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit speaks to representatives from foreign diplomatic missions Saturday at a police station in Bangkok.

It said their presence at the police station “with such a visibility and the publicity it generated were clearly an act of political significance, seen by the Thai public largely as a show of moral support to Mr Thanathorn.”

“In other words, it was a political act or a political statement on the part of the Embassies,” it said. “It clearly amounted to the Embassies choosing to be a player in Thai domestic politics, at least by having taken side in the country’s political landscape.”

US embassy spokeswoman Jillian Bonnardeaux said US charge d’affaires Peter Haymond met Wednesday with a senior foreign ministry official at the ministry’s request.

“The US Embassy regularly attends court proceedings in high profile cases around the world in order to observe fair trial guarantees and respect for rule of law,” she said in an emailed statement. “This is a standard diplomatic practice.

The U.S. interest in this case, as in many other cases, is to observe the judicial process and obtain first-hand information about the handling of the case.”

A statement from the European Union delegation to Thailand made a similar point, saying, “Observation of hearings and trials is standard diplomatic practice worldwide. Its purpose is to enhance understanding of adherence to international standards such as human rights and due process.”

“Such observations are in no way indications of political preference or support for specific actors,” it said.

The EU statement thanked the Thai police for their cooperation “in facilitating the observation and for offering to brief the diplomats present”.

The Associated Press