Briefing on Claims of Thai Government Torture Is Canceled
HONG KONG — Officials in Thailand on Wednesday prevented an international rights group from publicly presenting a report that accuses the ruling military junta of torture and abuse, the group said.
Minutes before the briefing was scheduled to start at a hotel in Bangkok, the Thai capital, plainclothes police officers warned that two employees of the group, Amnesty International, would breach Thai labor law if they spoke publicly, according to one of the employees, Yuval Ginbar. Amnesty canceled the briefing.
Mr. Ginbar said it was not clear how he and his colleague, who have British and Indonesian passports, respectively, would have been in violation of the law. Both had business visas and assumed they were in compliance with the government’s labor regulations, Mr. Ginbar said.
“I think it’s a facade for trying to shut us up,” Mr. Ginbar said of the police officers’ warning. He added that a United Nations official had also been scheduled to speak.
The Thai junta, which seized power from an elected government in a 2014 coup, has styled itself as a bastion of stability in a deeply polarized nation. But the Amnesty report said that it has routinely tortured or abused political opponents, migrant workers, suspected insurgents and others after having imposed martial law for nearly a year and issued several orders that restricted civil liberties.
The report documented 74 cases of alleged torture or “ill treatment” by the Thai military or police, including beating, burning, strangling, suffocation, waterboarding and electric shock. It said the violence had occurred at military bases, at police stations and at detention facilities, both official and unofficial.
The report acknowledged that Thailand’s penal code does not define torture as a distinct criminal offense or unequivocally prohibit courts from using evidence obtained through torture. But it said the junta’s orders have overridden Thai laws that guarantee legal counsel for detainees and require prosecutors to bring them to court within two days of an arrest.
Amnesty International said the report was based on 57 interviews with alleged victims and 19 with their relatives or lawyers, as well as victims’ letters, court documents and medical records.
A government spokesman, Maj. Gen. Weerachon Sukhondhapatipak, said Wednesday that he had not yet read the entire report, but that he was already offended by its tone.
“A constructive comment will lead to a solution and to cooperation between Thailand and Amnesty International,” he said in a telephone interview. “But it seems they are criticizing in nonconstructive ways.”
Mr. Ginbar said that while Amnesty argues that repression has increased since the coup, his group seeks to work constructively with the junta. In addition to criticism of police and military tactics, the report contains “concrete and doable recommendations” regarding legal and criminal justice reform, he said.
“It’s not about condemnations and screaming,” he said.
Previous Thai governments also sanctioned beatings and other abusive interrogation tactics, said Pawinee Chumsri, a human rights lawyer in Bangkok and a member of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, a Bangkok-based civic group that provided letters from alleged victims for the Amnesty report.
But Ms. Pawinee said the junta typically uses interrogation methods that are harder to trace — nearly suffocating detainees with plastic bags, for example, or arresting their family members as a form of psychological torture.
“You’ll never see the wounds,” Ms. Pawinee said by telephone. “It’s not like the broken bones or anything else we saw in the past.”
The Amnesty event was not the first human rights briefing to have been canceled during the junta’s rule. In September 2014, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights canceled a briefing at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand under pressure from the military. In June 2015, the junta forced the New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch to cancel a planned briefing in Bangkok about alleged human rights abuses in Vietnam.
Laurent Meillan, the acting regional representative for the United Nations Human Rights Office for Southeast Asia, said in a statement on Wednesday that Amnesty International’s report corroborated previous findings by the United Nations Committee Against Torture.
The military government’s decision to prevent the group’s employees from speaking publicly “raises serious questions about the ability of international organizations to stage public events in Thailand,” Mr. Meillan added.
The junta has vowed to restore democracy but has also repeatedly postponed scheduling elections. Critics say that a referendum in August in which Thai voters approved a new junta-backed constitution was marred by the junta’s restrictions on campaigning and news coverage.