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WWII veteran and father of five, John Morison marks his 90th last year

Prisoner of Thailand Writes Letter Home

Wednesday, November 19, 2014
Father of five and WWII veteran John Morison celebrates his 91st birthday on November 20 at home in Mount Gambier, Australia, but the passport of his son, Alan, is being held in Thailand.

Dear Dad,

Happy Birthday. I wish I could be there to wish you a great one, as I did last year when you turned 90 and the whole family gathered to celebrate.

This year I can't make it. Sadly, I am a prisoner of Thailand. My passport has been seized because I am being accused by the Royal Thai Navy of criminal defamation. I face possibly a long jail term.

The contentious paragraph we published on the Phuketwan news site in July last year was written by two Reuters news agency reporters who won a prestigious Pulitzer award for it and other paragraphs in an excellent series on the Rohingya boatpeople.

Strangely enough, the Royal Thai Navy is suing Phuketwan and not the Reuters authors, probably because we are a very small organisation and Reuters is a large one.

So I have surrendered my Australian passport. An application to have it returned so I could be there for your birthday was rejected. If the case drags on, as seems likely, I could be a prisoner of Thailand for the next few years, with the prospect of jail still to come.

I miss you, and I miss all the family.

I am telling you this in a letter, Dad, because I know your hearing is failing. I also know that my sisters have kept secret from you the fact that I am a prisoner of Thailand. They fear that the news would kill you.

If I'd been there today, I probably would have told you all about it, as gently as possible. So instead, I must write to let you know what a great father you've been all these many years, and that your sacrifices will never be forgotten.

You were one of those worker Dads my four sisters and I saw less often than we would have liked, from a generation where fathers worked and mothers did not, at least not in regular jobs.

You went to war, just like your father did and Mum's father did. Both of them clambered ashore at Gallipoli. One of them was wounded and sent home. The other went on to the Western front where he was gassed in the trenches. He survived, but the gas cut his life short.

Why did Australia go to two world wars? There are times when injustice simply must be confronted, I guess.

My brave Thai colleague, Chutima Sidasathian, who is also being sued by the Royal Thai Navy, has been confronting the unjust treatment of Burma's Rohingya boatpeople in Thailand for years now.

The two of us aim to continue doing that. We've told the Royal Thai Navy that if they want to stop us reporting on what's happening to the boatpeople, they will have to kill us.

We hope the Navy sees sense and instead of using Draconian laws against a small media organisation, turns their attention to the human traffickers, or to the Burmese Government driving the Rohingya into the sea. Sadly, that seems unlikely to happen soon.

I became more hopeful recently when the British government won back the passport of a human rights defender named Andy Hall, simply by asking the Thai courts. Andy has since travelled to Britain and to Burma and could spend Christmas at home with his folks.

For reasons they decline to explain, the Australian Government continues to reject my pleas to do the same in my case, even though officially, my passport is their property.

We've enjoyed enormous support from many sources. The United Nations human rights body, the European Union nations, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Commission of Jurists and many other organisations have spoke up in our defence.

The Australian Government, though, has said nothing.

Over the years, Dad, there were many times when you showed how much you cared. The time I remember most is back in the '60s, when I was conscripted to join the Australian Army.

I was young and not in favor of the Vietnam War, but being a journalist I wanted to go to see for myself what was happening in Asia. I volunteered.

Without telling me, you wrote many letters to the Minister for the Army, mostly pointing out that too many conscripts were being killed by the enemy.

I remember as a gawky 20-something walking into the minister's office in Canberra. He sat me down in front of a huge desk.

You know the first words he said to me? ''Private Morison,'' he said, ''your father obviously loves you a lot.''

The Army Minister was right. Everything you've done for me and the family before and since has proven his judgement to be correct. Your values have become ingrained in all of us.

It took me many years to get to Asia. Now I'm there, fighting a different kind of fight for freedom of the media and for the Rohingya, a group the UN describes as the most persecuted people in the world.

The problem would be solved if Burma could be persuaded not to push them into the sea. The Royal Thai Navy and the Australian Government could do a lot to end their misery, not by turning back the boats but by preventing them from sailing.

I'm still left to wonder, though, if my country will ever be willing to fight for them, and for me.

It may be some time before I see you again.

Love to all,

Alan.

Alan Morison's sisters may decide it's not safe yet for John Morison to be told what's happening to his son. The trial of Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian for criminal defamation does not resume until July next year. If the case is lost, appeals are expected to take several more years.

What Others Say


The Australian Government

Former Ambassador to Thailand, James Wise: ''Normally, we take up issues like yours with our host government only after the person affected asks us to do so (especially when the case already has a high profile and we can be confident that the host government is aware of it). We would not want to cut across your own plans for managing the way you want to respond to the allegations against you - because, ultimately, how you manage your affairs is your business, not ours.''

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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Is that a mini skirt in photo 2?

Posted by phonus on November 19, 2014 09:11

Editor Comment:

People were more coy back then. Frank Sinatra was the Miley Cyrus of the 1950s. Life was all about fine romance.

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Where's old chimp ears Tony Abbott? Too busy grandstanding and brownosing at the G20 to give a toss? These so called defamation laws are a perversion of natural law.

Reporters must be free to report the truth and if people are unhappy with the truth do something about it, don't use the law to deflect attention from these deeds.

Thailand's reputation is being forever damaged by people using these vexatious cases to persecute the innocent.

To stop you visiting your elderly father is a disgrace. The Navy should be ashamed of such behavior.

Posted by Arun Muruga on November 19, 2014 09:48

Editor Comment:

We are still waiting for Australia to support President Obama's recent plea for the Rohingya to be treated fairly. Burma should give them citizenship and teach its more rabid residents about tolerance. That would stop many boats.

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Australian fine romance? Bit of an oxymoron there, mate.

Posted by phonus on November 19, 2014 09:56

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Mr. Morison, We as westernized English speaking readers greatly sympathize with your dilemma. But I can't help but wonder if the majority of what you've published on the subject of human trafficking has gotten lost in translation to even some of the better English speaking/comprehending Thai's amongst your readership (including the Thai navy). A lot of the heartfelt nuances of which you write in such a fine letter to your father may be going over the head of a lot of Thais. Have you ever thought of having your articles translated in Thai. So that they could be run in parallel, side by side for both Thai's and English speaking readers? So that a lot of what you say can be spread to a larger audience. Just a thought.

Posted by Donald Jackson on November 19, 2014 14:26

Editor Comment:

It's a good idea. Only the Thais can change their country for the better.

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Happy birthday John Morison.

Best Regards
From all in Norway.

Posted by Bjorn Ronningen on November 19, 2014 14:28

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You say that for reasons they decline to explain, the Australian Government has not asked the court to remit your passport. The UK did it for Andy Hall. Perhaps he was helped by not expressing publicly being in favor of the rebellion that would pave the way to the coup d'etat ?

Posted by your-opinion on November 19, 2014 14:47

Editor Comment:

Coup or no coup, PW has always supported change for the better and reform before elections in Thailand. It's fair to say the excellent relationship between Andy Hall and his country's ambassador, Mark Kent, has been turbulent. Australia's ambassadors are just not that assertive. And Canberra is not that interested.

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Happy birthday Mr M snr.
Most of the time our dads know what is going on, they just wait patiently and silent waiting for when we are ready to discuss it with them.

Posted by Manowar on November 19, 2014 18:52

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Happy birthday Khun John. You and your country can be proud raising your son to the man he became. He is not wasting his life, but found a meaningful place even though not always comfortable. A clear minded ambassador for freedom and democracy. No matter what.

Posted by Lena on November 20, 2014 04:25

Editor Comment:

Thank you for your kind words. I will try to live up to them.

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I wonder whether you have contacted Australian human right ombudsmen (or any appropriate similar officer) and Australian NGOs that deals with HR and media freedom infringements in particular, since they most probably have established channels of communications with Canberra and have also established tactics how to deal with them..? And if so, what was the result?

Posted by Sue on November 20, 2014 05:04

Editor Comment:

Thanks for your thoughts. We haven't contacted the Australian Human Rights Commission because the case is really an issue for Thailand and my nationality is incidental. Canberra is a black hole. Principles don't survive there.

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Back in the old DDR the citizens were barred from travelling to what they called KA - Kapitalistisches Ausland (Capitalistic Foreign Countries). It's well know how extreme the measures taken to prevent the citizens to leave were.

However, even at the height of the Cold War, permits to travel were often issued due to urgent family matters.

Thailand should seriously reconsider allowing Mr. Morison to visit his ailing father.

Many recent developments and statements made by the current leaders in Thailand have alarming similarities to how things used to be in the DDR. At the end the people simply had enough of being spoon fed the government doctrine happiness and the nation collapsed.

No amount of intimidation, attitude adjustment and detention of Klassenfeinde could contain the will of the people to be free.

Repressive dictatorships have no place in the 21st Century.

Posted by Herbert on November 20, 2014 10:00

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Lovely letter. I lost my Dad earlier this year, also a WW2 veteran who fought in Borneo. It's clear you are proud of your father and love him very much. I am just as sure he feels the same way about you. Good luck with your struggle. I will be writing to my local member on this issue. There is a federal election looming in Oz and for some strange reason potential candidates all seem to start listening to their electorate around this time.

Posted by pete59 on November 20, 2014 10:43

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Dear Alan, congratulations on a superbly written letter. Congratulations too on your great journalism whether exposing the slave trade or warning foreign tourists of various dangers and scams. I hope that more members of the silent majority start finding their voices and start speaking up for you and your colleagues.

Posted by Ian Yarwood on November 21, 2014 14:20

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Hello John,
Greetings from a new friend in Canada.
In this age of personal entitlement, people like you remind us what it is to be selfless. I will never meet you, but we are brothers of the Commonwealth, as my grandfather was from Scotland.

You should be very proud of your son Alan; he has the same tough mental capacity as you do - as he fights for justice in a strange land, realizing that injustice anywhere is a cause for good human beings to take up action (like you did long ago - lest we forget), to his detriment - as evil forces (persistently) continue to attempt to thwart his and Chutima's good works -but still he fights on - in your name sir, with much love.

Here's to at least 10 more birthdays for you Mr. Morison..

Respectfully,

Dean Rintoul - Carpenter and Special- Needs Teacher, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Posted by farang888 on November 24, 2014 00:03


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