Thai junta rejects allegation of denying free speech

The junta has responded to criticism by Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) that freedoms of expression and assembly were denied, after the police forced cancellation of a TLHR talk on human rights.

On Friday 5 June, Col Winthai Suwaree, spokesperson of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), said that the TLHR did not cooperate with the NCPO in the first place. If the NCPO had considered the report to make sure that its content is truthful and did not incite conflict, then the event could have been held, Winthai said.  

The NCPO spokesman added that the NCPO needs to know the details first, before any public event can be held. He also said that TLHR had reported false information before. In many cases, TLHR had assisted people who are against the NCPO instead of government officials, according to a Krungthepturakij News report on Winthai’s briefing.

The NCPO response was to the TLHR statement released on Thursday about the cancellation of the event. The report says that the authorities interrupted at least 71 public events during the first year after the coup. TLHR stated that this suppression strongly violated human rights and will not lead to the establishment of democracy.

On Thursday 4 June, TLHR planned to launch its report on the human rights situation in the year since the coup at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) in central Bangkok. The police sent a formal letter to the FCCT “asking for cooperation” that the event should not be held due to the fact that it may cause a disturbance and instability in the current situation.

Nevertheless, about 20 Thai and foreign media personnel and representatives of embassies and international organizations still showed up at the venue to give moral support to the TLHR and the FCCT.

Despite the police demand, TLHR held a press briefing at 6 pm in front of the FCCT to clarify the cancellation.

“It was ironic. After a year the situation should be better but it turned out to be worse. It’s like a dead end,” Yaowalak Anupan, the head of TLHR told media and observers under the close watch of plainclothes policemen.

Jonathan Head, President of the FCCT and a correspondent for BBC News, told Matichon Online that as President, he felt uneasy since the FCCT honours freedom of expression and intended to open a space for discussion, but as the junta sent a formal letter to the FCCT, the club had to comply.