BANGKOK: Thailand’s military rulers Thursday banned a panel discussion exploring rights abuses alleged to have taken place during the junta’s one-year rule.
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, which provides legal aid to those who fall foul of the junta, had been due to launch a report on the kingdom’s faltering rights record at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand (FCCT) on Thursday evening.
But in a statement released Thursday afternoon the FCCT said it had been forced to cancel the event “on the orders of the NCPO and the police”.
The NCPO is the official name for Thailand’s junta — the National Council for the Restoration of Peace and Order.
A letter sent to the club from police said the FCCT should cancel the discussion because “there might be some people with ill-intentions using the opportunity to create some situations that might cause chaos”.
The FCCT said the panel discussion was not sponsored by the club. Thai Lawyers for Human Rights had paid to use the venue.
Club president Jonathan Head tweeted through his personal account that although the panel discussion was cancelled the club would remain open in the evening, adding that there would be “a visible police presence”.
A junta spokesman, Major General Werachon Sukhondapatipak, confirmed the military halted the event, saying Thai Lawyers for Human Rights had not sought permission from the authorities.
“They did not talk with NCPO first. They have to keep NCPO informed and explain the content of the event,” he told AFP.
Werachon said the junta had previously allowed political events to go ahead at the club if organisers contacted them in advance.
An attempt by Thai Lawyers for Human Rights to hold a similar event after the junta’s first 100 days in power was also cancelled after junta pressure.
The organization was not available for comment.
Thailand’s generals took over in a May 2014 coup that toppled the democratically elected administration of Yingluck Shinawatra after months of sometimes violent street protests.
They have since ruled the country with an iron fist, banning public protests, muzzling the media and arresting critics.
Last month iLaw, a local group that monitors arrest figures, said 751 people have been “summoned” by the authorities for attitude adjustment since the military took over while 166 people have been arrested “while expressing their opinions in a public place”.
The junta says its power grab restored order after months of protests against Yingluck left dozens dead and the economy in a straitjacket.
They initially vowed to hold new elections within 15 months but that timetable has repeatedly slipped as the junta goes about rewriting the country’s constitution.
New polls are not expected until September 2016.
Supporters of the Shinawatra family say the putsch was the latest assault by the royalist Bangkok-centric elite on the kingdom’s burgeoning democratic forces.
But while the Shinawatras are loved by poor voters, particularly in the culturally distinct northeast, they are loathed by their establishment opponents who accuse them of corruption, cronyism and costly populist polices.