Deporting Wong hurts Thai image

Deporting Wong hurts Thai image

Back in Hong Kong after his shameful detention in Bangkok, activist Joshua Wong explains Thailand's respect for human rights and democracy. (EPA photo)
Back in Hong Kong after his shameful detention in Bangkok, activist Joshua Wong explains Thailand's respect for human rights and democracy. (EPA photo)

Time and again, Thailand makes global headlines for all the wrong reasons, the latest being a shameful show of force by authorities to detain and then deport a Hong Kong-based democracy activist.

Joshua Wong, 19, who arrived in Thailand to be a guest speaker at Chulalongkorn and Thammasat universities to mark the 40th anniversary of the bloody Oct 6, 1976 crackdown on student activists, was sent back home from Suvarnabhumi airport after what has been described as a decision by the Immigration Bureau of Thailand.

The fact that Mr Wong was deported has created a bigger buzz in the global community and, within an hour, if not minutes, a Google search showed hundreds of articles relating to the deportation of Mr Wong.

Umesh Pandey is Editor, Bangkok Post.

Apart from coverage in the online world, printed publications such as our paper carry the story on the front page and I am sure many other like-minded ones will follow suit.

The claim that the decision was that of the Immigration Bureau has merit to it. After all, it is the bureau that allows one to enter the country but nobody in their right mind would believe that a 19-year-old was turned back due to his criminal record. Everyone believes that there is something fishy that is not visible on the surface.

One wonders if it was fear by the military government that Mr Wong's speech at these universities would trigger another wave of anti-coup sentiment after months of peace in the country, or if it was pure pressure from the Chinese government on Thailand to avoid giving Mr Wong an international stage to speak on.

Mr Wong, who led the so-called "Umbrella Movement", one of the largest protests since Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997, was denied entry into another country that is on the brink of a having dictatorial regime -- Malaysia, in May last year.

The decision by the Thai authorities, no matter who those people are, has only helped create a buzz in favour of Mr Wong and the issues he was going to raise. If it was a decision by the military regime to ban his entry in hopes of keeping the possible unrest at bay, then it has had the opposite impact.

This is because, had the event been allowed to go ahead, the turnout would have not been as big while, at the same time, it would also not have made global headlines.

Mr Wong's talk may barely have made it to even our front page as there are more issues at hand that people want to hear about, be it "Hawaiigate", the daily flooding of the city or even the continued mystery of the eight-year-old frozen body found in a refrigerator.

After finding out about the decision to deport Mr Wong we decided to send a reporter on the same flight to interview him. Alas, the details of Mr Wong's flight back home were not revealed.

It would be even worse if the decision was made based on pressure from China. The Goliath to the north of us has been a big bully for years and despite its wings being clipped as its economy is growing slower than expected, it continues to wield immense clout in the policy decision making of many countries in this part of the world.

Thailand, which itself has been on the global radar screens for its human rights abuses ever since the military took control in mid-2014, needs to rethink the decisions it makes.

Coup leader Prayut Chan-o-cha showed how sensitive he is when he blasted social and mainstream media for showing a young lady bathing in the potholes leading to her house as local authorities ignored her pleas.

Gen Prayut said that such photos hurt the image of Thailand and that he would sack all the officials who were involved for not fixing the potholes on the road.

I do not know who advises my dear leader but having potholes on rural roads is not an uncommon thing. In this part of the world this is normal and I do not think the image of the country would be hurt because of this.

But one thing I can say for sure is that the country's image has definitely been hurt by the detention and deportation of Mr Wong.

Our image of human rights abuses and intolerance for different opinions took another bashing yesterday.

Many of us would say the deportation of Mr Wong was not surprising but as the government of Gen Prayut tries to crawl out of the hole it has dug itself after the coup with a host of human rights abuses by using military courts to bulldoze its way through, the decision to detain and deport Mr Wong has only dug the hole a little deeper.

Umesh Pandey

Bangkok Post Editor

Umesh Pandey is Editor, Bangkok Post.

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