BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai police forced a rights group to cancel the launch of a report alleging Vietnam’s persecution of an ethnic minority on Friday, saying it could harm relations between the Southeast Asian neighbors.
The launch of the 33-page report by the New-York based Human Rights Watch outlining Vietnam’s persecution of ethnic Montagnard Christians in the Central Highlands was due to take place at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand in Bangkok.
But undercover soldiers and police turned up at club to shut down the event, a FCCT official told Reuters, declining to be named.
Thai police said they acted pre-emptively after receiving a request from the Vietnamese government.
“Vietnamese officials had sent a request to the Royal Thai Police to pay attention to the event,” Police Colonel Pornchai Chalordet, superintendent of the Lumpini police station in Bangkok, told Reuters.
The cancellation came as concerns grow over freedom of expression in Thailand under the military government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.
Prayuth, who as army chief took power in a May 2014 coup, said on Thursday he was not afraid of the press, days before the government is to hold a meeting to teach journalists how to ask questions that won’t offend him.
Pornchai said the event was deemed potentially damaging to foreign relations.
Police Colonel Kittiporn Boongsong, who was at the scene, told Reuters police had only asked for “cooperation”.
He said that the junta did not order the event’s cancellation.
Human Rights Watch in a statement said it was disappointed.
“This action today is just the latest indication that Thailand is choosing to side with dictatorships in Asia,” it said.
Thailand’s military overthrew the previous democratic government last year after months of political unrest. The junta has since stifled dissent, disallowing political gatherings and debate.
This was the third event to be canceled at the request of Thai authorities within two months, the FCCT official said.
In 2010 Thailand, under pressure from Vietnam, denied visas to two political activists seeking to speak at an FCCT event.
Reporting by Kaweewit Kaewjinda and Panarat Thepgumpanat in BANGKOK; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Nick Macfie