Foolish move with Amnesty

Foolish move with Amnesty

An attempt by the Labour Ministry and police to stop representatives of international human rights organisation Amnesty International (AI) from releasing a report on the culture of torture and ill-treatment that has allegedly prevailed since the 2014 coup offers absolutely no benefit to the country.

In trying to silence critics, the authorities not only forewent a chance to engage constructively with the human rights defenders but also allowed themselves to be seen as despots who resorted to gagging instead of a free exchange of opinions.

The move was such a futile exercise as the report is available online for everyone to see anyway. The impression that people now have of the Thai authorities which tried to block its public release is how imprudent and ill-advised they are.

Police and Labour Ministry officials on Wednesday threatened to arrest and prosecute three foreign nationals scheduled to present the report on alleged torture and other ill-treatment under the military in Thailand for visa violations.

While the officials insisted they did not intend to stop the forum, their action resulted in AI calling off the public release of the document detailing 74 cases of alleged beatings, suffocation by plastic bags, strangling by hand or rope, waterboarding, electric shocks of the genitals, and other forms of humiliation by soldiers and the police.

The London-based advocacy group said it had been in contact with the government in the weeks before the launch of the report but it was informed at the last minute that its foreign staff -- the authors of the report whom it had flown in for the event -- had the wrong visas, according to a Guardian newspaper report.

The Labour Ministry officials claimed that the foreign panelists did not have valid work permits to speak at the event.

The assertion sounds more like an expedient ploy for the authorities to block the group from publicising its research to journalists, diplomats and local human rights activists due to attend the event yesterday than a serous attempt to enforce the law.

After all, the report is highly critical of the military government which AI accused of relying on martial law and special prime minister's orders to detain people at unofficial sites for up to a week without charge and without communication. It's during these detentions that people interviewed by AI over the course of six visits spanning a period of two years from 2014-2015 claimed they were subjected to torture and other forms of mistreatment.

The report offers a damning observation that although Thailand is a party to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, its soldiers and police officers "routinely" use torture and other ill-treatment against individuals in custody.

It also noted that the country has insufficient mechanisms, whether in the legal framework, policies or practices, to protect its people from this maltreatment.

If the government has nothing to hide, the public release of a research document about its policies and performance by an international organisation should serve as a perfect forum to defend itself against critics.

The content may be negative but if the government is confident in its information, then it could have used the occasion to counter those claims.

It could even turn the tables and prove to the world how the report failed to present the situation accurately and whether its claim that there is a "culture of torture" among the country's law enforcement officers was an exaggeration if it had the maturity to let the foreign researchers discuss their findings and courage to face up to them and convince them otherwise with solid information, not evasion.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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