BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand's military government on Friday forced a human rights group to cancel the public launch of its report on the Vietnamese government's persecution of an ethnic minority, saying it could affect national security and bilateral relations.
The 33-page report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch describes persecution of Montagnard Christians in Vietnam's Central Highlands, whose religious practices have been described by the government as "evil."
Thai police said in a statement Friday the scheduled event at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand, or FCCT, could "have an impact on the country's security or could affect the friendship and cooperation between Thailand and Vietnam."
It is the third event in one month that has been cancelled at the venue. Two previous seminars that were shutdown involved topics about human rights situation in Thailand and the country's harsh lese majeste law protecting its monarchy.
More than a dozen plainclothes and uniformed police officers were waiting outside the club, along with a police truck parked nearby. The FCCT said it received a written order from the police, issued on behalf of the ruling junta, to cancel the press conference by Human Rights Watch where the report was to be launched.
"The FCCT complied with the written request, which was also sent to HRW," the club said in a statement. However, the human rights report was available on the group's website. An electronic version was also sent to journalists by email.
The FCCT lets out its premises for public events as a service for the media, diplomatic community and students.
The forced cancellation of the event is "very disappointing" and is "another affirmation that human rights organizations can no longer report, not only about situation in Thailand, but situations in neighboring countries in Southeast Asia," said Sunai Phasuk, Human Rights Watch's senior researcher in Asia.
"Thailand is now going to be known as the defender of human rights violators in (Southeast Asia), which added more damage to Thailand's already tarnished international reputation under the military rule," he added.
Thai authorities have cracked down on critics and dissents since the military seized power from a civilian government in last May's coup.
The Thailand section on Human Rights Watch's webpage was briefly blocked by the government.
In its report, Human Rights Watch called for the Vietnamese government to "end abusive policies and practices" that have forced hundreds of Montagnards to flee the country.
It said the Montagnards' beliefs and faith practices, such as De Ga Protestantism and Ha Mon Catholicism, are suppressed by the government on the grounds that they are not religions at all. It said the Montagnards have been subjected to intimidation, arbitrary arrests and mistreatment in custody.
There was no immediate response from the Vietnamese government on the report.