Thai authorities shut down foreign press club event on Myanmar

September 11, 2018 12:50 PM

Bangkok, September 11, 2018--Thai authorities on Monday shut down a panel discussion at Bangkok's Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand, marking the sixth such event the country's ruling military junta has canceled since seizing power in a May 2014 coup.

The event, entitled "Will Myanmar's Generals Ever Face Justice for International Crimes?," was shut down after Thai police delivered a letter to the club's management saying the discussion could be used by "third parties" to cause unrest and endanger national security, according to reports and an FCCT statement protesting the cancellation. The letter was delivered after participants and attendees had arrived at the event, according to the same reports.

The FCCT statement said there were "no grounds whatsoever for such suspicions" and that Thai authorities had "overreacted" in shutting down the event. Journalists who spoke with CPJ on the condition of anonymity said that plainclothes authorities took pictures of attendees and panelists at the event before it was closed down.

Organizers of the event planned to discuss a recent report by the United Nations Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar that recommended prosecution of that country's military leaders for alleged genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in ethnic minority areas.

"Thailand's military junta government should stop censoring journalism-related public events and allow the media to do its work without fear of harassment or reprisal," said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative. "We call on military authorities to stop harassing the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand and allow it to resume its crucial role as an open and free forum for vital discussion and debate of regional affairs."

Myanmar's military commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, is among those recommended for prosecution in the U.N.'s report. In February, Min Aung Hlaing was awarded a prestigious Thai royal decoration, known as the Knight Grand Cross of the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant, in recognition of the two nations' military cooperation, local reports said.

The FCCT statement said the cancellation represented the sixth program it has been forced to cancel since Thailand's 2014 coup, since which time democratic government has been suspended. Those include a planned event in May 2017 titled "Memories of 1932--the mystery of Thailand's missing plaque," which likewise was banned for reasons of national security, CPJ documented at the time.

In June 2015, the junta canceled another FCCT event scheduled to discuss the country's lѐse majesté law, which allows for 15-year prison terms for public criticism of the Thai royal family.