An artwork for Run Against Dictatorship

BANGKOK — Organizers of a sports event billed as a rally against PM Prayuth Chan-ocha said Monday their news conference on the activity was forced to cancel by the police.

A presser for “Run Against Dictatorship” was scheduled to take place at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand on Wednesday, but the club can no longer host the event due to “intense pressure” from local police, organizers said in an online announcement.

“The FCCT has clearly explained to us about what happened and offered us an apology,” the statement said. “The club also said it regretted what happened.”

The group said it would still hold the news conference once a new venue has been secured.

“We’d like to insist on organizing the news conference on that date and time to insist on our freedom of expression under a democracy,” the statement said.

Read: Under Pressure, FCCT Cancels Discussion of War Crimes in Myanmar

One of the organizers, Tanawat Wongchai, said the move surprised him because Thailand is supposedly no longer under a military rule.

“It wasn’t expected,” he said. “I thought after elections the junta and its absolute power under is no longer. The government promoted itself as a democratic government.”

Despite obvious references to PM Prayuth and his semi-military government, Tanawat insisted the event would merely be a running tournament without any political speeches.

“We are more disappointed at the government than the FCCT. It’s really a mafia act, because it’s not endorsed by any [legal] power. Is this a democracy or dictatorship disguising itself?” he said.

In a statement, the FCCT said it was ordered by Lumpini Police Station to cancel the presser due to the political nature of the event.

“They also stated that there would be serious consequences for the FCCT – suggesting possible closure – if it did not comply with their request. After discussion with the group, the organizers agreed to find an alternative venue,” the club said.

Lumpini Police Station chief Kampol Rattanaprateep declined to give any comment, saying he needed to “discuss the matter again” with the FCCT.

Once considered a rare oasis where Thai politics could be discussed relatively unhindered, the FCCT has often come under intervention by the authorities after the 2014 coup to cancel events and discussions related to human rights situations in Thailand.

Notices of cancellation are typically made to the club by a local police station, though activists suspect the government was responsible for the orders.

Run Against Dictatorship will be held on Jan. 12, 2020, according to the organizers.

Additional reporting Pravit Rojanaphruk