BANGKOK — Thai authorities threatened to arrest Amnesty International speakers who were set to hold a news conference Wednesday to release a report detailing allegations of torture at the hands of the military and police, causing the rights group to cancel the event.
Beatings, suffocation by plastic bags and electric shocks of the genitals 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 organizations earlier this week but was to be officially released on Wednesday.
Just before the news conference was to begin, officials from Thailand’s Ministry of Labor 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 canceled the event.
“We know that the current government does not accept criticism very well,” one of the slated 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 Labor’s actions by saying no matter which organization 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,” Sansern said. “We all have to follow these laws. Even if we are criticized, the law is the law.”
In its report, Amnesty International documented 74 cases of torture and other mistreatment by military and police officials since the junta’s takeover of the country in a May 2014 coup.
“Please shoot me and send my corpse to my family,” said a man who was arrested by the army and held at an undisclosed location for seven days, according to the Amnesty report.
The man said he was repeatedly tortured with other methods. “They put a plastic bag on my head until I fainted, and then poured a bucket of cold water on me,” the report quotes him as saying. “They applied electro-shock to my penis and chest. I was restrained, my legs tied, and my face covered with tape and a plastic bag.”
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 criticized by human rights groups for cracking down on dissent, jailing critics and censoring the media.
Without mentioning the Amnesty report directly, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha defended military detention of “so-called political prisoners,” saying they are given good housing and food, but that they sometimes complain about things like the quality of air conditioning.
“We’ve released so many of these so-called political prisoners, but some are charged so we have to hold them,” Prayuth said Wednesday at a forum for journalists, businesspeople and others.
“I hope you understand, I’ve been very forgiving,” he said. “Only a few people suffer because they want to violate things all the time. And they blame the government for human rights violations. If I violate that much would I be able to stand here? But they try to get themselves prosecuted so they can tell it to the world.”
Laurent Meillan, the U.N. Human Rights Office’s acting regional representative for Southeast Asia, said the move by the Ministry of Labor on Wednesday to prevent the Amnesty panelists from speaking “raises serious questions about the ability of international organizations 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,” Meillan said in an email.
Associated Press writer Penny Wang contributed to this report.