Authorities in Bangkok abruptly canceled a press conference Friday during which a report on the plight of indigenous communities in central Vietnam was due to be launched.
The meeting, called to launch Persecuting ‘Evil Way’ Religion: Abuses Against Montagnards in Vietnam, a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), was deemed too “sensitive” to take place at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand, Department of Information director general Sek Wannamethee told HRW, according to the rights group.
While many meetings to discuss the political situation in Thailand have been nixed, this is the first time a discussion of another country has been deemed too controversial. The decision, many believe, is because Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung is due to visit Thailand soon.
“This action today is just the latest indication that Thailand is choosing to side with dictatorships in ASEAN while further stepping up repression at home,” HRW said in a statement Friday.
The incident is the latest curbing of freedoms since Thailand’s military chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha seized power in a May 22, 2014, coup d’état and installed himself as Prime Minister. Hundreds of academics, journalists and activist have been summoned and arbitrarily detained for criticizing military rule. Even cryptic expressions of dissent such as publicly reading George Orwell’s 1984, or flashing the three-fingered salute from The Hunger Games, have been outlawed.
The relationship between Thailand’s military and press has also become more fractious. Winthai Suvaree, a spokesman the National Council for Peace and Order, as the junta euphemistically christened itself, revealed this week that 200 local and foreign journalists would be summoned to “create understanding” and be given instructions on how to “ask questions” that will not offend Prayuth, who is notoriously touchy. The 61-year-old despot went on a bizarre rant earlier this week, in which he seemed to accuse the entire media industry of a conspiracy against him.
“I am not angry at you, reporters, because I know that you were ordered to do this. If you write well, they won’t publish your stories,” he said, according to the English-language service of the Thai newspaper Khaosod. “We are working to fix everything, but the media keeps writing that I have not done any work at all, that I haven’t passed any reforms at all. I am sad, too. I am sad to be born in this country.”