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DPA : Vietnam pressured Thailand to block visas, activists say

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HANOI, 13 September 2010 (dpa) – Vietnam was behind Thailand’s decision to block two activists from travelling to Bangkok to present a report on human rights in Vietnam, the activists said Monday.

The Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights and the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights had planned a press conference Monday at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) to release the report.

On Thursday, the Thai embassy in Paris informed Vo Van Ai, chairman of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, that his Thai visa had been revoked at the request of Vietnam, according to the group’s vice president, Penelope Faulkner.

“The Thai embassy told me specifically that their consul had received word that Vietnam had formally complained,” Faulkner said.

Faulkner, who had planned to travel to Thailand without a visa, was told as she was about to leave Sunday morning from Paris that the Thai embassy had told the airline not to allow her to board. The launch of the report was cancelled later Sunday.

Vietnam government officials did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

The report was titled From “Vision” to Facts: Human Rights in Vietnam under its Chairmanship of ASEAN.

Vietnam, one of the world’s few remaining communist states, currently holds the chairmanship of 10-nation ASEAN, or the Association of South-East Asian Nations, of which Thailand is a founding member.

Thailand has long been an outpost of relative freedom for press and human rights activists in South-East Asia, where many countries have more restrictive policies.

But in a letter Sunday to the press club, Thailand’s Foreign Ministry objected to holding the launch of the Vietnamese human rights report there.

“While the royal Thai government attaches great importance to the principles of freedom of expression and diversity of views, it also has a long-standing position of not allowing organizations and/or persons to use Thailand as a place to conduct activities detrimental to other countries,” ministry spokesman Thani Thongpakdi wrote.

“I, therefore, hope that the FCCT will respect this position and not allow its premises to be used for such activities,” he said.

The press club objected to the government’s interference. “We feel it is unfortunate that the Thai government has chosen to apply pressure on us in this way,” it said in a statement. “We would appreciate if the government reconsiders the wisdom of such pressure.”

“It’s really staggering, in the sense that you can’t even get on a plane in Paris to go talk about Vietnamese human rights,” Faulkner said.

“It’s a signal to all civil society activists, and we really hope that Thailand is going to think about what happened here,” she said.

Vo Van Ai is a long-standing critic of the Vietnamese government who runs the Buddhist Information Centre in Paris.

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