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Detail from a cartoon in The Nation: full version below

On Phuket, Freedom's Just Another Word For Nothing Left to Lose

Sunday, March 30, 2014
PHUKET: With the 30th anniversary of World Media Freedom Day coming up, IBAP has booked the team from Phuketwan for their first ever Phuket speaking engagement.

The gathering will be held on Friday, April 11 at a venue to be announced shortly. Here's just a small portion of what will be on the menu:

EVER been to a mass circumcision, checked out the 2000 post-tsunami bodies on Phuket or seen Rohingya boatpeople rioting to avoid death inside Immigration cells? These are among the hidden aspects of everyday life on the Andaman coast, exposed uniquely by the reporting team at Phuketwan.

Phuket's only international award-winning reporters, Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian see many bubbling below-the-surface issues in Thailand that inevitably affect Phuket and all its residents, for better or for worse.

Their knowledge of how Phuket works is based on first-hand experience.

Morison was the only Western journalist present when five bodies were raised from a sunken dive boat off Phuket. He was also on the scene within minutes the night that Aussie travel agent and tourist Michelle Smith was stabbed to death.

Now Phuketwan is not just breaking news but making news - all around the world.

Morison and Khun Chutima are being sued by the Royal Thai Navy for criminal defamation, with the Computer Crimes Act being used by the military against the media in Thailand for the very first time.

The maximum penalty: seven years in jail.

''No story is worth much if it pleases everybody,'' says Morison, the veteran editor of the online magazine whose grumble-guts approach to readers' comments often leaves them wondering just whose side he is on.

The Royal Thai Navy court action is significant for everyone who tweets or who on-sends an email containing someone else's information.

The paragraph they are being sued over is not something they wrote. It's word for word from Reuters, the international news agency.

Morison and Khun Chutima look at what's happening in Thailand and on Phuket each day with experienced eyes and wonder whether this is democracy in action, or some strange form of modern dictatorship.

Yet they are positive about Phuket - and even have praise for the Royal Thai Navy.

Get an insight into the otherworld of Phuketwan by joining Morison and Khun Chutima for an evening based on their recent highly-acclaimed session in Bangkok with the members of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand.

If she isn't in Phuket Prison, Khun Chutima begins a worldwide campaign later in April to speak up about the threat to media freedom in Thailand with speeches at Sydney University and the Melbourne Press Club.

Date Friday, April 11

Time 6.15pm

Venue Urban Food, Central Festival

Alan Morison, Chutima Sidasathian

CNN describes Morison: Alan, a long-time copy editor, went back on the road as a reporter after the tsunami and stayed there, becoming one of the few journalists permitted to view the forensic autopsy process aimed at identifying nameless victims.

He is a winner of the prestigious Walkley award for journalism in Australia as a headline writer, and shared a second Walkley for Internet coverage of the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

In 2008, he founded a regional news and information site, and with colleague Chutima Sidasathian broke the story in January 2009 that the Thai military was secretly pushing back would-be refugee Rohingya in unpowered boats. Hundreds died, but the abuse was halted.

Chutima is a Thai journalist at Phuketwan and a Ph.D Candidate of Philosphy in Asian Studies at Walailak University.

UPDATE: The pair have since shared four major international awards for their coverage of the Rohingya boatpeople pushbacks from Thailand.

What Others Say

United Nations 'Criminal prosecution for defamation has a chilling effect on freedom of the press,' says Ravina Shamdasani, the spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 'International standards are clear that imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty for defamation.'

Human Rights Watch 'The Thai navy's lawsuit is a reckless attempt to curtail journalists' reporting on alleged human trafficking by its officers,' said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. 'Unless the government withdraws the case, its impact will be felt far beyond those reporting on abuses against the Rohingya - and could have a choking effect on all investigative reporting in Thailand.'

Reporters Without Borders "It is intolerable that journalists are being prosecuted for just doing their job by relaying information of general interest that had already been made public," Reporters Without Borders said. "Bringing charges under the controversial Computers Crimes Act in a defamation case is indicative of the critical state of freedom of information in Thailand and amounts to an attempt to gag the media. We support these journalists, who are facing a jail term, and we call for the immediate withdrawal of these proceedings."

Committee to Protect Journalists 'Rather than shooting the messenger, the Royal Thai Navy would be better suited launching an internal investigation into the serious allegations of abuse that have been raised,' said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative. 'This type of legal intimidation aims ultimately at discouraging media reporting on allegations of serious human rights abuses.'

Rights group the Arakan Project 'Thanks to the fair investigative reporting by the Phuketwan journalists, the involvement of various Thai agencies in the massive smuggling and trafficking operations of Rohingya refugees and their related miseries is no more a secret. Rights groups should unite to call on Thailand to quash these defamation charges.'

Bangkok Post The action makes the navy look like a bully, and gives the impression the admirals would like to intimidate the media. Instead of defending the navy's honor, the criminal defamation suit holds it to question. Instead of silencing the media about the story - concerning the navy's role in the mistreatment of Rohingya boatpeople - the lawsuit repeats it, to more people and at greater length.

Bill Barnett (The Phuket Insider) The issues which have drawn Phuketwan into this fray are profound and disturbing. There should be no need to wax over reality and respect needs to be given to those who stand up for the helpless who cannot help themselves.

Andrew Drummond (Investigative Journalist) We should all support journalists who are doing a difficult job here under laws which best suit a totalitarian state.

Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand These are two inspiring and courageous journalists, running their own newspaper, without the backing of a big media organisation. They are really worth listening to while they still have the freedom to speak.

More Background

Navy Uses Computer Crimes Act to Sue:

The Nation Cartoon in Full:

Phuket Reporters Prepared for Prison:


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Monday July 15, 2024
Phuketwan - Your sweet Phuket, every day


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