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Thai police shut down journalists' discussion about Rohingya

September 11, 2018

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In this Sept 6, 2018, photo, a Thai policeman stands inside Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand during an event titled: "Will Myanmar's General Ever Face Justice for International Crimes" in Bangkok, Thailand.  ─ AP
In this Sept 6, 2018, photo, a Thai policeman stands inside Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand during an event titled: "Will Myanmar's General Ever Face Justice for International Crimes" in Bangkok, Thailand. ─ AP

Police in Thailand shut down a forum organised by foreign journalists on Monday to discuss whether senior military officers in Myanmar should face justice for alleged human rights abuses committed by their forces against Rohingya Muslims and other ethnic minorities.

About a dozen policemen showed up ahead of Monday evening's scheduled panel discussion at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand and ordered the panelists not to speak.

The scheduled speakers included Tun Khin, a prominent United Kingdom-based Rohingya activist; Kobsak Chutikul, a former Thai diplomat; and Kingsley Abbott, a representative of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), a rights advocacy group.

Last month a specially appointed United Nations (UN) human rights team recommended that Myanmar military leaders should be prosecuted for genocide against the Rohingya.

Critics of Myanmar's military have also accused it of carrying out ethnic cleansing and other war crimes.

Some 700,000 Rohingya fled across the border to Bangladesh after the army launched a counterinsurgency campaign in response to attacks by Rohingya militants last August.

Myanmar's army, which for decades has been accused of violating the human rights of various ethnic minorities, denies having committed organised rights abuses.

The police at the Bangkok event handed over a letter requesting the panel discussion on "Will Myanmar's Generals Ever Face Justice for International Crimes?" be cancelled because it could damage national security, affect foreign relations and give a third party the opportunity to create unrest.

However, Police Col Thawatkiat Jindakuansanong told the organisers, "We are not asking. We are ordering you to cancel the event."

Dominic Faulder, the president of the Foreign Correspondents Club, expressed his disappointment and said he had no choice but to announce the cancellation.

It is believed to be the sixth time police have forced a cancellation of one of the group's programmes since Thailand's military seized power from an elected government in 2014. Politically sensitive events in other venues have also been stopped.

Scheduled panelist Abbott, a senior international legal adviser with the ICJ, chided Thai authorities for the shutdown.

"This is an issue of global concern and Thailand, as Myanmar's neighbour and a leading voice in Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), should be taking a leadership role in addressing the situation," he said.

"Thailand's decision to order the event not to proceed is enormously disappointing and represents a lost opportunity to discuss the situation and identify possibilities for accountability in an open forum in the region," he said.