Thai authorities blocked an Amnesty International news conference on torture in the kingdom Wednesday, the watchdog said, the latest move to silence rights groups in the army-run country.
Two foreign Amnesty International staff were scheduled to speak at the launch in Bangkok of a report detailing 74 cases of torture at the hands of Thai soldiers and police.
But the advocacy group was told by labour officials and police on Wednesday that speaking at the event could be grounds for arrest, AI spokesman Omar Waraich told AFP, forcing the group to cancel the conference.
“The authorities said to us that… if any representatives from Amnesty International spoke at the event they would be in violation of Thailand’s labour laws,” he said.
All of the speakers had valid business visas and were in touch with local authorities before the conference, he added.
Junta spokesman Winthai Suvaree said he was not aware of officials’ interference with the event but denied any torture under the military government, which came to power in a 2014 coup.
“The information they had on torture was probably 10-20 years old. Their sources might not be trustworthy,” he told AFP.
The report accused the junta of allowing a “culture of torture” to flourish since its power grab two years ago.
It described a range of abuse suffered by detainees, including beatings, partial suffocation by plastic bags, strangling, waterboarding and electric shocks to the genitals.
“We documented 74 cases, we also interviewed officials and we came to the sad conclusion that torture is prevalent in Thailand. And as far as military interrogations are concerned, torture is even systematic,” said Dr. Yuval Ginbar, a London-based legal adviser to Amnesty International who came to Thailand to present the report.
The United Nations described the findings as “substantive” and hit out at the Thai government for blocking the event.
“This incident is another striking illustration of a new pattern of harassment of human rights defenders documenting torture in Thailand,” said Laurent Meillan, a representative for the UN’s human rights office in Southeast Asia, who was also scheduled to speak at the conference.
The junta has severely curbed free speech over the past two years by outlawing all political activities, muzzling the press and detaining scores of critics.
Police and soldiers have been dispatched to break up dozens of rallies and block numerous events covering rights abuses and other politically sensitive topics.
Three rights activists behind a landmark report on torture in Thailand’s insurgency-hit south are now facing jail time after the military filed defamation charges against them earlier this year.