MEPs have confirmed that a letter sent to the deposed former Prime Minister of Thailand, Yingluck Shinawatra, is genuine and that their invitation to speak in Brussels, or Strasbourg, about the country’s military junta, still stands.
A row broke out Tuesday (24 November) over the invitation, with Thai media citing Bangkok authorities questioning its authenticity, and insisting only they would decide whether Shinawatra could leave the country.
The letter, dated 7 October, invites the former premier “for an exchange of views” in light of the military takeover,and with the “worrisome” situation for democracy in the Asian country.
However, Shinawatra would need the permission of the military authorities to leave Thailand to address MEPs. She was arrested following the coup, and has been retrospectively impeached in relation to alleged corruption in a rice export affair.
On Tuesday, General Prayuth Chon-ocha was reported as telling Thai radio that his government was checking whether the letter was genuine or not, and that it should have been sent via the Thai ministry of foreign affairs.
>>Read: MEPs condemn Thai junta
But a spokesman for Werner Langen, chair of the European Parliament delegation for ASEAN, and one of the signatories of the letter, confirmed to EurActiv that it was genuine, and that the invitation still stood.
A joint statement from Langen, and Elmar Brok, Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, is expected later today.
EurActiv revealed yesterday (23 November) that any chance of a free trade agreement with Thailand was off the agenda whist the country was ruled by a military junta.
Such an EU-Thailand FTA had been largely negotiated when the military came to power in a coup in May 2014, deposing Shinawatra.
It was then put on hold. Comments by Deputy Head of Cabinet of the EU Trade Commission, Miguel Ceballos Baron, revealed there was “probably zero” chance of it being ratified before Thailand returns to some form of democracy.
Privately, Parliament officials laughed off suggestions that the letter could have been faked.
Thailand’s key fishing export sector is also under close scrutiny by Brussels, with a decision due by the end of the year on whether to renew or upgrade the current ‘yellow card’ on tuna and other imports, pending investigations into labour abuses in the so-called “Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated” (IUU) fishing sector.
The letter, from Brok and Langen, which EurActiv has seen, states:
“We have been following the latest political developments in Thailand with concern.
The situation since the military coup is indeed worrisome. Your country is still without a democratically-elected legislature and will probably remain so at least until mid-2017. The period of instability hence appears to continue.
“Your retroactive impeachment and the trial in the Supreme Court is also a cause for concern.
“The European Parliament stands firmly for democracy and the promotion of democratic values. For this reason, we would be pleased if you could accept our invitation to an exchange of views on the situation in Thailand, either in Brussels or Strasbourg when possible or convenient to you.”
Currently, the Thai military are proposing a formula of elections in March-June 2017, with six months for drafting a new charter, four months for a referendum on it, followed by six months of law-drafting, and a four month election campaign.
The vice-chair of the Parliament’s human rights sub-comittee, Barbara Lochbihler, told EurActiv, “I’m highly concerned about the human right situation in Thailand, a country I visited earlier this year. The situation of migrants is particularly worrying.
“Since the military coup in May 2014, there have been reports of online censorship and large-scale curtailing of media freedom. Bloggers and journalists are reportedly interrogated by military police on a regular basis, which has led to wide-spread self-censorship.
“Also, human rights activists report cases of torture and other ill-treatment by police and armed forces, of arbitrary arrests and detentions, unfair trials and impunity.”
Lochbihler is also a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, chaired by Brok.
- November/December 2015: A decision on whether to rescind Thailand's yellow card for IUU fishing, or upgrade it to a red card, which would see a ban on imports from the key Thai tuna sector.