Thai authorities prevent press briefing on state-sponsored torture

Police and public officials have prevented a press briefing by Amnesty International (AI) on a report about state-sponsored torture, saying that the AI speakers might be charged for not having work permits.

On 28 September 2016, at Four Wings Hotel in Bangkok, Special Branch police officers and officials from the Department of Labour Protection and Welfare intervened in a press briefing on an AI report titled “Make Him Speak by Tomorrow: Torture and Other Ill-Treatment in Thailand”.

The report documents 74 cases of torture and other ill-treatment at the hands of the military and police, including beatings, suffocation by plastic bags, strangling by hand or rope, waterboarding, electric shocks to the genitals, and other forms of humiliation.

The Thai authorities said that they are not banning the press briefing, but AI speakers from the UK might be arrested if the briefing continued because they do not have work permits.

Laurent Meillan, a scheduled panellist and Acting Regional Representative of the UN Human Rights Office, condemned the cancellation of the event on the basis of work permits. Doing so has set a dangerous precedent whereby the work of international human rights organisations may be censored on grounds of labour, on top of usual accusations such as defamation.

Laurent posted on his Facebook page, “The decision by the labour ministry, and enforced by the Special Branch, to prevent two foreign panellists from speaking because they did not have work permits raises serious questions about the ability of international organisations to stage public events in Thailand.”

“This incident is another striking illustration of a new pattern of harassment of human rights defenders documenting torture in Thailand.”

In the report, AI states that since seizing power in a 2014 coup, Thailand’s military authorities have allowed a culture of torture and other ill-treatment to flourish across the country, with soldiers and policemen targeting suspected insurgents, political opponents, and individuals from the most vulnerable sections of society.

“Thailand may claim to be tough on torture, but actions speak louder than words. Empowered by laws of their own making, Thailand’s military rulers have allowed a culture of torture to flourish, where there is no accountability for the perpetrators and no justice for the victims,” said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International’s Director for South East Asia and the Pacific.

Speakers at the cancelled press briefing of an Amnesty International report titled “Make Him Speak by Tomorrow: Torture and Other Ill-Treatment in Thailand” on 28 September 2016, Bangkok