BANGKOK — When representatives of Amnesty International gathered at a Bangkok hotel Wednesday morning to talk about the military regime’s use of torture, plainclothes security forces told them they would be arrested if they so much as opened their mouths.
A panel discussion at the Four Wings Hotel of a new Amnesty International report on the use of torture since the 2014 coup was shut down when military officers warned foreign speakers would be arrested and prosecuted for violating labor laws if they spoke.
Omar Waraich, Amnesty regional spokesman, said all of the organization’s speakers had valid working business visas.
Waraich said that Amnesty had been “completely transparent” with the authorities about their work and reached out to senior officials, including the prime minister, about the report’s contents. He said they received no reply.
“Thai officials know about the content of our report, as we have sought engagement in recommendations with the authorities on the use of torture,” Waraich said.
The military regime has shut down or put pressure on a number of discussions in recent years, including those involving foreign speakers at places such as the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand.
Wednesday’s incident seemed the first time threat of arrest under labor law was used to silence an event. Waraich said that while officers did not directly shut down the panel, their threat of prosecution prompted Amnesty to comply and cancel the event.
All of the arranged speakers, including Laurent Meillan of the U.N. Human Rights Office, were foreign nationals.
“I regret I could not speak at this event today. This incident confirms a pattern of harassment of [human rights defenders] documenting torture in Thailand,” Meillan later tweeted, also saying the incident raised “serious questions about the ability of international organisations to stage public events in Thailand.”
Waraich said the report released today, “Make Him Speak by Tomorrow,” was the product of two years of thorough research into 74 cases of torture by 57 victims since the military seized power in 2014.
Though the use of torture has been documented in the past in the southernmost provinces, where a violent insurgency has ground on for years, Waraich said the report details a wider range of victims, including government opponents, suspected insurgents, migrants, and ethnic and religious minorities.
“Torture is wrong in every single case,” Waraich said.
In graphic detail it recounts harrowing accounts of torture, including suffocation and electrical shock to the genitals. It said the suspension of liberties and measures enacted by the junta contributed to the use of violence.
“There is an illegal framework that enables torture to take place,” Waraich said. “There are NCPO orders that allow impunity for torture by soldiers and police.”
In the report, Amnesty writes that many of the victims were “tortured during the first seven days of detention – the period when the military is allowed to hold them in unofficial places and without contact with the outside world or any other safeguards against ill-treatment.”
Waraich said Amnesty began compiling the report because “after the coup, numerous reports of torture increased” despite recent commitments made by the authorities against torture.
I regret I could not speak at this event today. This incident confirms a pattern of harassment of HRDs documenting torture in Thailand. https://t.co/UOxyLRwtFg
— Laurent Meillan (@LaurentMeillan) September 28, 2016
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