Amnat Charoen authorities close same charter forum twice

Amnat Charoen authorities close same charter forum twice

A soldier and police officer talk to an organiser as they press their request to end a public forum on the draft constitution in Muang district of Amnat Charoen on Saturday. (Photo by Sawitree Raksasit)
A soldier and police officer talk to an organiser as they press their request to end a public forum on the draft constitution in Muang district of Amnat Charoen on Saturday. (Photo by Sawitree Raksasit)

AMNAT CHAROEN — Soldiers and police on Saturday ordered a forum on women and the draft constitution to be closed and followed the organisers to shut it down again after they moved to another venue.

WeMove, a women's rights group, and its northeastern allies were holding a forum on "The voice of Isan on the draft charter" with 75 participants from 13 provinces at the Amnat Charoen Kindergarten School in Muang district when their unexpected guests showed up.

Four soldiers registered as participants, took pictures of the event, including each organiser and the speakers, before citing an order from provincial governor Yingyos Thanachan to close the forum shortly after it started.

The organisers then moved the meeting to a new venue at the Route 22 Hotel but officers followed them and banned it again, this time on grounds that it was being held without prior permission.

The meeting aimed to gather comments about the draft from people in the northeastern region before forwarding them to the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC). WeMove had staged an earlier meeting in Bangkok, with the blessing of the charter drafters and attended by CDC chairman Meechai Ruchupan.

The CDC has said that it is open to comments and intends to make changes to the draft if necessary before the final version goes to a public referendum. However, most of the meetings it has held so far have been with institutions aligned with the military government. It has said that it would accept comments in writing.

Sunee Chairos, the WeMove coordinator, said she was shocked when the authorities appeared and ordered the forum to end in five minutes. The organisers demanded to see a written order but officers could not provide one to  them.

"The CDC needs reactions from people from all walks of life. We are trying to inform women's groups across the country about the content of the draft charter, and what our group is doing is not against any law," said Ms Sunee, a former member of the National Human Rights Commission.

"Women's groups will never accept the order and we ask the NCPO (National Council for Peace and Order) and governor whether they would like the forum to go underground or in public?"

Supensri Pungkoksung, an activist from the Gender Equality Promotion Foundation, one of the co-organisers, condemned the authorities and planned to raise the issue in a meeting of the National Human Rights Commission on Wednesday.

WeMove later issued a statement demanding that the NCPO show responsibility and calling on the regime to end rights violations.

"What the soldiers and police in Amnat Charoen province have done is to threaten the rights and freedom of expression on the draft charter by people," the group said.

Such practices must end, it said, "otherwise people will not accept the draft charter in which the public is not allowed to participate".

WeMove has coordinated with the CDC to bring together people to give input on the draft charter. A similar forum was held earlier at parliament in Bangkok, and another one in Lampang. The final stop for the forum is in Phatthalung next weekend.

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