Thailand: Police shutdown press discussion on Burma Rohingya Crisis
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Thailand: Police shutdown press discussion on Burma Rohingya Crisis

AUTHORITIES in Thailand shut down a panel discussion organised by foreign journalists to discuss human rights abuses in Burma (Myanmar) and whether the military generals should face justice.

According to a statement from the organisers, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT), police raided the event on Monday as “the discussion might be used by ‘third parties’ to cause unrest and endanger national security.”

This is the sixth event organised by the FCCT to be cancelled since the military staged a coup 2014. The organisation insisted there were “no grounds whatever for such suspicions” as they have held similar events, over decades, none of which have led to any “unrest of subversion.”

The discussion, scheduled to take place in Bangkok, was entitled “Will Myanmar’s Generals Ever Face Justice for International Crimes?” It aimed to unpick a United Nations fact-finding report into the Rohingya crisis that was released last month.

The report accused Burma’s generals, including the military’s commander in chief General Min Aung Hlaing, of war crimes and genocide. It called for those responsible to be tried for their crimes at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Many journalists took to social media to express their dismay at the closure of the event.

The BBC’s Johnathan Head saw the closure as evidence of Thailand “defending Myanmar’s generals over what the UN calls genocide in Rakhine.”

Asia Pacific editor for AFP, Jerome Taylor, said it sends out a “terrible signal” about press freedom and repression in the country.

“It’s one thing to force @FCCThai to cancel events on Thai politics,” he said on Twitter. “A whole other level of repression to shut down a debate on accountability over what UN investigators have called the ‘genocidal intent’ of Myanmar’s generals against Rohingya.”

One of the scheduled speakers at the event was senior legal adviser and the International Commission of Jurists, Kingsley Abbott, who saw the irony in the authority’s actions.

“Disappointed at being denied the opportunity to speak on accountability in Myanmar at @FCCThai tonight, particularly as one of my observations was going to be how Thailand and others in region need to step up & show leadership on the issue,” he said.

According to those at the event, about a dozen plain clothes policemen showed up ahead of the scheduled panel discussion and ordered the panellists not to speak. They handed over a letter requesting the panel discussion be cancelled.

“We are not asking. We are ordering you to cancel the event.,” Police Col. Thawatkiat Jindakuansanong reportedly told the organisers.

Thailand’s military government has been accused of tightening its grip on media freedom since it overthrew a democratically elected government in 2014.

According to Reporters Without Borders, the range of subjects that are liable to be censored has grown steadily since the junta took over, while harassment of journalists, media outlets, bloggers, artists and intellectuals has become systematic.