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Alan Morison's sisters are asking the Australian PM to recover his passport

Australian PM Asked to Seek Passport

Wednesday, September 17, 2014
PHUKET: The four sisters of Phuket journalist Alan Morison have written an Open Letter to Australia's Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, seeking government support in asking the Phuket court to return his passport.

Morison and Phuketwan colleague Chutima Sidasathian have been accused of criminal defamation and face a Computer Crimes Act charge in a precedent-setting action by Thailand's Royal Thai Navy.

The military-versus-media court action has raised alarm in Thailand because in genuine democracies, the military doesn't sue the media - it makes telephone calls or holds media conferences.

Action by the military and other agencies in relation to the Rohingya boatpeople now streaming by sea from Burma remains covert, despite international concern and the lowering of Thailand to the bottom level in a recent US State Department Trafficking in Persons report.

Morison and Khun Chutima have been reporting on the Rohingya saga since 2008. Their revelations are believed by many to be the reason why the Royal Thai Navy applied heavy-handed action instead of making a telephone call or holding a media conference.

The 41-word paragraph cited in the charge was quoted word for word by Phuketwan from the Reuters news agency, which subsequently won the Pulitzer for coverage of the Rohingya that included the contentious paragraph.

Reuters and other news outlets in Thailand and around the world that published the same paragraph have not been charged.

Morison's Australian passport is being held pending resumption of the journalists' trial in July next year. Unless he has his passport returned, Phuketwan is likely to be forced to close when his work permit expires in February.

Earlier this month, the British Government applied to a Thai court for the return of the passport of British human rights defender Andy Hall - and the court granted the request.

Morison and his sisters are now asking the Australian Government to follow the example set by the British Government and ask for the return of his passport.

Open Letter to Australia's Prime Minister


Prime Minister Tony Abbott,
Parliament House, Canberra.

cc Foreign Minister Julie Bishop
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten

Dear Prime Minister,

We are deeply concerned over a matter of principle involving Australia's reputation as a defender of free speech and the rights of Australian citizens to be certain their government will defend them from unjust treatment anywhere in the free world.

Our brother Alan Morison, an award-winning journalist in Australia and the South East Asia region, has been falsely accused of criminal defamation. The harsh Computer Crimes Act is also being applied against him and a colleague by the Royal Thai Navy.

This unprecedented military versus media court action has been condemned by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty, Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists and many other rights groups.

Our father is about to turn 91 years old, and in rapidly declining health. Because our brothers' passport has been seized, he is not permitted to leave Thailand. He has been told any application for temporary use of his passport will require an emergency of some kind.

As the case is not due to resume until July next year, Alan remains a prisoner in Thailand.

Last week, Andy Hall, a British activist on behalf of migrant workers facing similar charges, regained his passport when the British Government intervened. The court's response was to return Mr Hall's passport, unconditionally.

Like Mr Hall, my brother is a long-time resident of Thailand and not a flight risk. Like Andy Hall, and on the basis of their award-winning coverage of the Rohingya boatpeople, our brother and his colleague Chutima Sidasathian could also be rightly classified as human rights defenders.

We would now welcome the Australian Government adopting the same approach as the British Government and asking for the Phuket Provincial Court to return my brother's passport.

Yours respectfully in peace,

Jenny Braddy,
Cathy Schmierer
Jill Morison
Lisa Kovaleff


What Others Say


United Nations
''Criminal prosecution for defamation has a chilling effect on freedom of the press,'' said 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.''

Chris Lewa, director of the 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.''

Phuketwan
''We wish the Royal Thai Navy would clear its reputation by explaining precisely what is happening to the Rohingya in the Andaman Sea and in Thailand,'' Phuketwan said in a statement released in response to the charges. ''By instead using a controversial law against us, the Navy is, we believe, acting out of character.''

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.

CNN
Morison said: "The navy's action over one paragraph has created a perfect storm. If the navy proceeds with the case, the Rohingya issue is now tied up in their action against media under a controversial
law."

TIME
In the meantime, calmer seas mean that even more Rohingya are expected to attempt the treacherous journey in the weeks ahead. Nothing could gladden the traffickers more.

Reuters
Barb Burg, Reuters' (former) global head of communications: ''Our story was fair and balanced and Reuters has not been accused of criminal libel.''

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.

Excellence in Human Rights Reporting, Investigative Reporting awards
In 2010 the Phuketwan team shared the Society of Publishers in Asia Award for Excellence in Investigative Reporting and a second Award for Excellence in Human Rights Reporting, both with the South China Morning Post newspaper. Judges said of the Excellence in Investigative Reporting award: ''An excellent series that uncovered serious government abuses and had a material impact in correcting them. Exclusivity. Strong reporting. Hard-hitting piece with international implications.''

Of the Excellence in Human Rights Reporting award, the judges said:
''Excellent investigative work that exposed serious human rights
abuses of oppressed people. Intrepid reporting of a hidden subject.
This is a high-caliber series buttressed by solid on-the-ground
reporting and great pictures. All militaries are challenging subjects
for investigative reporters and Thailand's is no exception. The team clearly went to great lengths to get sources, break news, and provide the details that prodded the government into action.''

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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Of Course the Passport should be returned. The "Government" of Thailand or the Army must admit that they have made a mistake and should Drop this case. In case they will continue they will get even bigger problem from "The World"

Posted by Mj on September 17, 2014 10:22

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Ed: Have you contacted the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), (they probably know about the PW case anyway), as they are a powerful voice involving threats against human rights defenders and journalists.

Posted by Pete on September 17, 2014 10:38

Editor Comment:

Yes, we have met with the ICJ representatives in the region. They show a continuing interest.

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An outrageous situation facing a fine Australian journalist and his Thai colleague. Anyone concerned with human rights - especially in regard to the Rohingya people - would be appalled at the way the Thai navy has sought to silence these journalists for doing their job.

Posted by geoff maslen on September 17, 2014 11:07

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From Thailand we know for long time it keeps & intends to Amaze us. That is why many of us like it. From The New PM & my favorite General since May 22 2014 I had, by now, expected Wisdom and more of the same in diplomacy, then showed in this case sofar. The PhuketWan versus a Navy-captain-case is not worth mentioning but Demolishing a LOT of all what is just gained/earned by Thailands new administration for its new and refreshing aproach. Why & who allows this silly Saga?

This Silly argument for and about facts (Royingha's) which can not be denied and are wittnessed, recognized and admitted by to many of the International world-press. Ignoring these facts make you behaving like fools or give doubts to your honesty or credibility.

The Thai "Mai Pen Rai" like reaction blows away/out a lot of Hope & fresh confidence.
BUT Australia's lack of guts and NO Support to PhuketWan is a lot worse; It is Ashaming and betrayal like. If this is what you can expect from your own government in case of bringing an International scandal to Public! I call it close to "hanging" your herotic/whistleblower. In the future this "Momentum" will get famous by history books. Phuketwan, Chutima and Alan your names deserve to be written in bold. And all the others involved, your own cowardly (not)acting politicians involved in Capitals. Because their shame should be memorized and stay ashamed & blamed for ever. How a small issue can get so out of control?

Posted by phuketgreed on September 17, 2014 15:34

Editor Comment:

Thanks. The test will be whether the Australian government is big enough to see the importance of the principles or small-minded and locked into a bureaucratic mindset. The British Government has set a good example. It should be a simple matter for Australia to follow.

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Maybe the new powers to be feel that justice must run its course, in other words let it go to court and have a judge legally dismiss the case rather than someone of authority do it bypassing the legal system as it may be deemed a corrupt action. You would think the navy would drop the charges however.

Posted by coxo on September 17, 2014 16:34

Editor Comment:

Mistake compounded on mistake. Bad for the navy, bad for PW and bad for Thailand.

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By the way Alan, what happened to you? Your sisters got all the good looks...

Posted by coxo on September 17, 2014 16:36

Editor Comment:

Two of them are single and restless, coxo. Be careful.

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Has he done anything directly for Andrew Greste?

Posted by Anonymous on September 17, 2014 19:42

Editor Comment:

We will have the chance to find out when we talk to the Greste family about Peter and his jail term in Egypt. Peter is still in jail.

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Alan's four sisters should pack a metaphorical punch - Phuketwan readers and supporters of media transparency have been openly asking how to help Alan and Chutima - it looks like Charity starts at home.

Posted by farang888 on September 18, 2014 04:35

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Perhaps a stupid suggestion but it seems if the passport has been stolen. Can you not file a police report and have a new passport issued? Or is it the principle? Then deposit the new passport with the Consulate for safe keeping.

Posted by Nip on September 18, 2014 07:50

Editor Comment:

Cheat the legal system rather than challenge it and change it? Sorry Nip, we're not like that. Besides, there would be a problem using a second passport to leave Thailand.

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Aren't passports the property of the issuing government?

Posted by Anonymous on September 18, 2014 18:16

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There are a number of issues to be considered.

If the current government returned the passport to AM, it would be reported as a sign that positive decisions were being made.
The negative side may be that the RTN decision then appears unsupported by what is a military government.
Would this cause fractures in the alliance?

The second issue is passport ownership. A passport is really only a document issued to a citizen of a country to confirm their identity. It is a requirement to exit the country of issuance but does not guarantee entry to another country.

The laws of the entering country determine the requirements to enter and vary according to origin. So who owns the passport, the individual or the origin country?

A citizen of a country is entitled to obtain a passport, unless use of that passport may be contrary to local laws or the owner has a pending criminal trial where there is the risk of not appearing.
The police can then apply to a court to hold that persons passport or other security with sufficient leverage to ensure they appear, usually in the form of a guarantee or bail.

It is not unusual requirement for a foreigner having to hand over their passport when facing a prosecution. The decision should consider the ties of the person to the country, financial obligations, investment, business and what is the chance of the person not appearing.

I would consider that a passport belongs to the person unless cancelled by the issuing country or confiscated by a person in another country having legal authority to do so.

But as said before, given AM's intentions and period or residency, it would appear to be an attempt to make life more difficult. Not unusual in any conflict situation, just petty.

Posted by Manowar on September 18, 2014 21:37


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