The police have forced Human Rights Watch to cancel a press conference launching a report about an ethnic minority persecuted by the Vietnamese government, claiming the content is sensitive to bilateral ties and a threat to national security.
The event was to take place at 10.30 am on 26 June at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand.
Around ten uniformed police officers and eight plainclothes officers arrived at the FCCT, taking unsolicited pictures of attendees before releasing an official statement on the forced cancellation.
In the official statement, the junta, via Lumpini police, claimed that the discussion of the Vietnamese government’s abuses of the Montagnard ethnic minority was “inappropriate” since it would “affect national stability” and the “Thai-Vietnamese bilateral relationship” by offering opportunistic “ill-intentioned individuals to create chaotic situations.”
According to the HRW’s report, Persecuting “Evil Way” Religion: Abuses against Montagnards in Vietnam, the Vietnamese government uses state policy and regulations to persecute religious minorities such as the Montagnard Christians. The Montagnards practise De Ga Protestantism and Ha Mon Catholicism, sects that officials call the “Evil Way.” Vietnamese authorities organize “many waves of search and hunt” actions to intimidate, arrest, and mistreat the Montagnards, whom they accuse of “having politically ‘autonomous thoughts’.” General Tran Dai Quang, Vietnam’s Minister of Public Security, stressed in an official speech in January 2014 the need to “actively fight” the Evil Way. Since then, Vietnam and Cambodia have collaborated to forcibly arrest and return asylum seekers.
By cancelling this press conference on the persecuted Montagnards, Thailand is taking steps to establish its position as a “country defending human rights violations in other ASEAN countries,” states Sunai Phasuk, senior researcher from HRW.
“Thailand used to defend human rights in Southeast Asia,” he says. “Blocking an event like this creates a specific image of Thailand in the NCPO era.”
Phil Robertson of HRW explained that in the afternoon of Thursday, 25 June, Sek Wannamethee from the Department of Information called Robertson to pressure him into cancelling the event. HRW replied that the report should be able to be presented, since it was not about Thailand at all, and most of the information in the report came from official Vietnamese state media. At 5 pm Lumpini police contacted the FCCT, saying that they had received orders “from above” to prevent the event from happening. An official written order was only released at the FCCT at the time of the intended event.
“By stepping in to defend a neighbouring state’s human rights violations against a group of its people and interrupting a scheduled press conference, Thailand’s military junta is violating freedom of assembly and demonstrating its contempt for freedom of the press. This action today is just the latest indication that Thailand is choosing to side with dictatorships in ASEAN while further stepping up repression at home,” stated Robertson.
Robertson has also said that the cancelled press conference will not be re-scheduled, so he hopes that the report will still be viewed although discussion was prevented.
View the HRW report on the Montagnards persecuted by the Vietnamese government here.