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Monday 23 September 2019

Thailand torture allegations from Amnesty spark arrest threat

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has defended the military detention of
Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has defended the military detention of "so-called political prisoners" (AP)

Thai authorities have threatened to arrest Amnesty International speakers who were set to hold a news conference to release a report detailing allegations of torture at the hands of the military and police.

Beatings, suffocation by plastic bags and electric shocks are among the torture methods used by Thai soldiers and police under the military government, according to the Amnesty report - which was sent to news organisations earlier this week.

Just before the news conference was to begin, officials from Thailand's Ministry of Labour warned Amnesty that the two speakers set to talk about the report did not possess work permits and therefore risked arrest if either one spoke on stage. Amnesty then cancelled the event.

"We know that the current government does not accept criticism very well," one of the speakers, Yuval Ginbar - Amnesty's legal adviser, told reporters outside the room where the news conference was to take place.

"But what is happening in the unofficial places of detention - people being beaten up, people being suffocated, people being water boarded - and what happens in police roadblocks where suspected drug users are forced to urinate in public or are coerced into paying bribes to get released, this is more important than what we're facing here."

Government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd defended the Ministry of Labour's actions by saying no matter which organisation the speakers are from, they must comply with the law. If they do not possess work permits, they risk arrest, he said.

"Our laws don't have multiple standards, we have only one standard," Mr Sansern said.

"We all have to follow these laws. Even if we are criticised, the law is the law."

Without mentioning the Amnesty report directly, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said that "only a few people" are violating the law.

"I hope you understand, I've been very forgiving," Mr Prayuth said to reporters at a separate forum. "They try to get themselves prosecuted so they can tell it to the world."

In its report, Amnesty International documented 74 cases of torture and other ill-treatment by military and police officials since the junta's takeover of the country in a May 2014 coup.

Mr Sansern denied any allegations of torture, saying that officials are required to act according to international standards of humanitarian laws.

Since it seized power, the military government has been continuously criticised by human rights groups for cracking down on dissent, jailing critics and censoring the media.

Laurent Meillan, the UN Human Rights Office's acting regional representative for South East Asia, said the move by the Ministry of Labour to prevent the Amnesty panellists from speaking "raises serious questions about the ability of international organisations to stage public events in Thailand".

"This incident is another striking illustration of a new pattern of harassment of human rights defenders documenting torture in Thailand," Mr Meillan said.


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