Thailand’s military government yesterday forced a human rights group to cancel the public launch of its report on Vietnam’s persecution of an ethnic minority, saying it could affect national security and bilateral relations.
The 33-page report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) describes persecution of Montagnard Christians in Vietnam’s central highlands, whose religious practices have been described by the government as “evil”.
In a statement issued yesterday, Thai police said the scheduled event at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand could “have an impact on the country’s security or could affect the friendship and co-operation between Thailand and Vietnam”.
It is the third event in one month that has been cancelled at the same venue. Two previous seminars that were shut down involved topics about the human rights situation in Thailand and the country’s harsh lèse majesté law protecting its ruling monarchy.
More than a dozen plainclothes and uniformed police officers were waiting outside the club, along with a police truck parked nearby. The club said it received a written order from the police, issued on behalf of the ruling junta, to cancel the press conference by Human Rights Watch where the report was to be launched.
“The [club] complied with the written request, which was also sent to HRW,” it said in a statement. However, the human rights report was available on the group’s website. An electronic version was also sent to journalists by e-mail.
The club lets out its premises for public events as a service to the media, diplomatic community and students.
The forced cancellation of the event was “very disappointing” and was “another affirmation that human rights organisations can no longer report, not only about situation in Thailand, but situations in neighbouring countries in South-east Asia,” said Sunai Phasuk, Human Rights Watch’s senior researcher in Asia.
“Thailand is now going to be known as the defender of human rights violators in South-east Asia, which adds more damage to Thailand’s already tarnished international reputation under military rule,” he added.
Thai authorities have cracked down on critics and dissent since the military seized power from a civilian government in a coup d’etat last May.
The Thailand section on Human Rights Watch’s webpage was briefly blocked by the government.
In its report, Human Rights Watch called for the Vietnamese government to “end abusive policies and practices” that have forced hundreds of Montagnards to flee the country.
It said the Montagnards’ beliefs and faith practices, such as De Ga Protestantism and Ha Mon Catholicism, are suppressed by the government on the grounds that they are not religions at all.
It said the Montagnards have been subjected to intimidation, arbitrary arrests and mistreatment in custody.
There was no immediate response from the Vietnamese government to the report.