September 28, 2016
BANGKOK (AFP) - Thai authorities shut down an Amnesty International news conference on torture in the kingdom Wednesday, the watchdog said, in the latest move to silence rights groups in the army-run country.
Two Amnesty International staff were scheduled to speak at the Bangkok launch of a report detailing 74 cases of alleged torture at the hands of Thai soldiers and police.
But the advocacy group was told Wednesday that speaking at the event would be cause for legal action, AI spokesman Omar Waraich told AFP.
"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.
"They did not specify further," he added.
The government did not respond to requests for comment.
Amnesty International had met with local authorities and provided them with the report in advance, Waraich added.
"So we are quite surprised that this action was taken," he said.
The report accused Thailand's junta government, which came to power in a 2014 coup, of allowing a "culture of torture" to flourish under its rule.
The regime has severely curbed free speech since its power grab, with police and soldiers dispatched to block numerous events covering rights abuses or featuring political debates.
Political rallies and protests are also barred under the junta, which has detained scores of people for criticising the regime.
Three rights activists behind a landmark report on torture in Thailand's insurgency-hit south are facing jail time for defamation charges filed by the military earlier this year.
"We note that this is taking place in a climate where discussion of torture in Thailand and finding ways to prevent it... is difficult," Waraich told AFP of the government's move to cancel AI's Wednesday event.
"Torture is taking place, it's taking place by the army by the police and that's what the report documented," he added.