Thailand pressures FCCT to cancel press conference

Bangkok, September 13, 2010–The Thai government acted inappropriately in pressuring the Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) to cancel a press conference that would have criticized Vietnam, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

The Bangkok-based FCCT had intended to host a press conference today by the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights and the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR). The two independent rights groups had planned to launch a new report called “From Rhetoric to Reality: Human Rights in Vietnam, under its Chairmanship of ASEAN 2010.”

The FCCT said in a statement that the ministry first contacted it by telephone on September 9 to request that the club cancel the press conference because “it might contain information detrimental to a neighboring country.” The ministry also requested that the FCCT inform the event’s two scheduled speakers, VCHR’s Vo Van Ai and Penelope Faulkner, that the ministry would deny them visas on arrival upon landing in Thailand. The event was formally cancelled by the two groups on Sunday.

“The FCCT provides an important space for journalists to meet and exchange ideas with newsmakers and that space should remain open and free of restrictions,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s Senior Southeast Asia Representative. “Regrettably, the pressure put on the FCCT is consistent with a wider crackdown on the free press and Internet under way in Thailand.”

Thailand has recently clashed both diplomatically and militarily with neighboring Cambodia, a country where Vietnam has historically held significant sway. Thailand and Vietnam have maintained cool relations ever since the Vietnam War, when Thailand allowed the U.S. to use its territories for bases to bombard positions in northern Vietnam.

Thani Thongphakdi, head of the ministry’s Department of Information, wrote in a September 10 e-mail to the FCCT that the government “attaches great importance to the principles of freedom of expression and diversity of views,” but that it also has “a long-standing position of not allowing organizations and/or persons to use Thailand as a place to conduct activities detrimental to other countries.”

The FCCT has long served as a regional hub for important press events. Last year, for instance, the FCCT hosted an event held by the Southeast Asian Press Alliance where Cambodian opposition politician Sam Rainsy made a speech highly critical of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, including references to his crackdown on journalists and activists.  It also regularly hosts events related to neighboring Burma, where speakers and journalists are able to air critical opinions that are censored from publication in that country’s military-run regime. However, there are rising concerns among Bangkok-based journalists that the Thai government will become less tolerant of such programs to guard against regional criticism of its own anti-democratic tendencies.