Land reform group forced to cancel press conference

Land reform group forced to cancel press conference

The authorities made another move yesterday to prohibit freedom of expression, forcing a group of social activists to cancel a press conference. The move came while a controversy over media intervention at Thai PBS has yet to be settled.

Nitirat Sapsomboon and his group, who campaign for legal and land reform, were taken to Chana Songkram Police Station after resisting an order to halt a press conference planned at the October 14 memorial in Bangkok.

The group said it needed to hold the press conference to give their account after an order by the military to shut down a public forum on "Thailand and Inequality", which focused on land reform. The event was set to be held at Alliance Francaise yesterday.

Nitirat and his group were held for questioning at the police station for a few hours before being released.

The group would not give up their activity, Nitirat said, noting that "the authorities asked us to submit the proposal before the forum is held. So, we might have to adjust the theme to ensure it will work".

He said the authorities also asked for cooperation - for them not to do things that could lead to political conflict.

The talk on land reform had to be cancelled, as the military feared some speakers may provoke different ideas on land reform being carried out by the junta's National Reform Council.

Last week, a march from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, arranged by the Northern Peasant Federation and called "First Step for Land Reform", was also called off. The movement was in response to the Prayut administration's crackdown on forest encroachment by investors, influential figures and illegal loggers.

In September, the authorities stepped in to stop a march from Surat Thani to Bangkok by activists demanding energy reform being undertaken by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

The latest move to block freedom of expression happened only a day after military intervention over a television programme at Thai PBS.

The TV station - a public broadcaster - and its journalists yesterday launched a campaign to end such intervention and asked for freedom of expression. They said the authorities should not gag the media and public while proceeding with national reforms. The suspension of TV host Nattaya Wawweerakup from her show "People's Voices Must Be Heard before Reforms" was an attempt to take care of every agency on any issue could lead to confusion or conflict, he said.

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