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Double Tragedy for Phuket Reporters as Royal Thai Navy Continues Unjust Persecution

Double Tragedy for Phuket Reporters as Royal Thai Navy Continues Unjust Persecution

Friday, June 26, 2015
PHUKET: The US State Department Human Rights 2014 report, released this week, unfavorably cited the Royal Thai Navy case against Phuketwan as the two reporters involved both endured personal family tragedies.

After suffering long illnesses, the fathers of Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian both died within days of each other.

''Fate has united us in grief,'' Morison said today.

''The profound regret Khun Chutima and I now share is that the Royal Thai Navy's unjust case prevented us both from spending more time with our fathers before they died,'' he added.

''It is an abuse of humanity. We will never forgive or forget this week.''

John Harding Morison, 91, died in Mount Gambier, South Australia, on Monday. Sawat Sidasathian, 71, died in Korat province, Thailand, on Wednesday.

Despite universal condemnation by rights groups and a request asking Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha to have the misguided action quashed, charges against the two journalists are due to proceed at Phuket Provincial Court from July 14-16.

If the case goes ahead, the Thai government and the Royal Thai Navy are expected to face intense criticism.

A large media contingent, international observers, Phuketwan readers and supporters and the Muslim community in Thailand and abroad are likely to be at the Phuket court.

''My father was a well-respected monk from the age of seven until he turned 35,'' Khun Chutima said today.

''As he lay dying, I asked him what the outcome of the case would be. 'You are going to win,' he said. We are certain that he is right.''

The discovery of mass graves in jungle camps on the Thai-Malaysia border and off the Andaman coast and tv footage of people bobbing on boats in the Bay of Bengal confirmed last month what the Phuketwan journalists have been reporting about the Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees and their treatment in Thailand for the past seven years.

The pair have shared international awards for human rights reporting and investigative journalism.

In December, 2013, the Royal Thai Navy, always secretive about its activities, sued them both - and Phuketwan's parent company - over a 41-word paragraph quoted accurately from a Reuters news agency article.

Morison, Khun Chutima and Big Island Media were singled out for prosecution. The Reuters news agency, the article's authors and other news outlets that published the exact same paragraph have not been sued.

The paragraph refers to ''Thai naval forces'' and does not mention the Royal Thai Navy. Thai military-style operatives, including local police, deploy craft off the Andaman coast that are all painted naval-grey.

Back in 2009, the Phuketwan journalists defended the Royal Thai Navy against accusations that their vessels had been involved in the notorious inhumane ''pushbacks'' of boatpeople that cost the lives of hundreds of Rohingya Muslims.

''The boatpeople were confused then,'' Morison said. ''These days, it is the Navy that is confused.

''We are saddened that a service with a good reputation is allowing one or two officers with an obvious grudge to damage the Navy's reputation and Thailand's reputation.

''There is still time for the Prime Minister to intervene.''

The two journalists, who say they have already suffered financial and personal hardship, face a maximum of seven years in jail.

The case comes at a time when Thailand's military government is attempting to prove it is serious about permitting freedom of speech in its version of democracy.

Setting a precedent, the military versus media case was brought six months before the Army took control in Thailand in May last year.

In contrast to the Navy's action, the Prime Minister's office recently asked Khun Chutima, a PhD candidate studying Rohingya-related issues, to provide her suggestions for solving the boatpeople issue. She was happy to oblige.

This week's US State Department reported on the case reads as follows:

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:


a. Freedom of Speech and Press

''Libel Laws/National Security: Defamation is a criminal offense, punishable by a fine of up to 200,000 baht ($6000) and two years' imprisonment. Criminal courts made several rulings on defamation and libel cases against political activists and politicians. On April 17, authorities charged two reporters, Alan Morrison (sic) and Chutima Sidasathien (sic), from the English-language news website Phuketwan, with defamation and other offenses for publishing excerpts of a Pulitzer Prize-awarded Reuters report that alleged navy complicity in the trafficking of ethnic Rohingya. Officials released both journalists on bail. The first hearing in the case was scheduled for May 2015.''

Earlier this month in Bangkok, the two journalists and a British human rights defender, Andy Hall, briefed envoys from 28 European Union nations about their cases.

Procecutions involving Andy Hall are also mentioned in the US State Department report:


Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights


''A Bangkok criminal court acquitted migrant rights advocate and foreign national Andy Hall on criminal defamation charges on October 29 in the first of four defamation suits that the Natural Fruit Company filed against him. The suits were based upon Hall's role in publicizing an investigative report released in 2013 and commissioned by the NGO Finnwatch that alleged serious labor rights violations and trafficking at the company's factory in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province. Hall faced additional criminal defamation charges, one civil defamation action, and two criminal charges under the Computer Crimes Act that could result in up to seven years in prison on each count and 300 million baht ($9 million) in damages. The trial took place September 2-10. Hall and other human rights advocates continued to maintain that the company filed charges to silence him and other activists.''

The US State Department's Trafficking in Persons 2015 report, which last year mentioned both the Andy Hall and the Phuketwan cases in downgrading Thailand to Tier 3, the lowest level, is expected to be released within a week or so.

Morison and Khun Chutima remain on bail of 100,000 baht each, provided by the Andaman Community Rights and Legal Aid Centre, based in Trang province. Other groups and organisations have also offered financial help.

Most of the legal costs of the case are being met by the London-based Media Legal Defence Initiative.

In Thailand, a group of more than 10 lawyers have teamed up to provide legal counsel. They include the Human Rights Lawyers' Association, iLaw and SR Law.

WATCH Journey into Hell, by Four Corners
From Burma through Thailand, an award-winning current affairs team traces official complicity in the brutal treatment of the Rohingya and Phuketwan's part in its exposure.
http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2015/06/22/4257490.htm

WATCH How Trafficking Works
Phuketwan Investigative reporter Chutima Sidasathian, still being sued for criminal defamation over a Reuters paragraph: ''It's worse and worse, day by day. Nobody cares''.
http://journeyman.tv/67116/short-films/rohingya-hd.html

LISTEN The Rohingya Solution
A tragedy almost beyond words has been unfolding in Thailand, where a human smuggling network is thriving with the full knowledge of some corrupt law enforcement officers. Alan Morison of Phuketwan talks to Australia's AM program.
http://www.abc.net.au/am/content/2015/s4231108.htm

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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Dear Alan and Khun Chutima

Please accept my sincere condolences on your recent losses.

Posted by Ian Yarwood on June 26, 2015 15:04

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Alan and Chutima,
Please accept my sympathy for both of your recent losses.

Posted by MoW on June 26, 2015 15:22

Editor Comment:

Thank you, MoW.

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(moderated)

Posted by Paul Smith on June 26, 2015 15:44

Editor Comment:

Thank you, Paul.

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To both journalists of PW I forward my condolences with the passing away of their fathers. That their fathers may rest in peace.

Posted by Kurt on June 26, 2015 15:45

Editor Comment:

Thank you, Kurt.

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This vexatious case is a national disgrace given what has been revealed recently about these human traffickers. Thai officials have a serious character flaw in being unable to admit wrong doing. They prefer to scape-goat and blame others for things they themselves are responsible for. Condolences for your losses.

Posted by Arun Muruga on June 26, 2015 16:00

Editor Comment:

Thank you, Arun Muruga

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My condolences to you both.
And despite my gripes and snipes at your editorial comments, i would miss PW if it closed down due to this absurd court case. Whatever are they thinking??

Posted by jimbo34 on June 26, 2015 16:03

Editor Comment:

Thank you, jimbo34.

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First my condense for the big loss of your father's Chutima and Alan. May you and your family receive comfort and warmth from all arounder you. I can only observe and enjoy that the Army will lose face all around the world with theu r childish action and this courtcase may those at the top of the hierarchy, those who started be pinpointed and seen as the joker of town and feel ashame till their final days. Phuketwan, Alan & Chutima you are my heroes and you deserve a pullitzer price by yourself.

Posted by phuketgreed on June 26, 2015 16:16

Editor Comment:

Thank you, phuketgreed.

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Dear Khun Chutima, dear Alan,

I am very sorry for your losses. I am sure, your fathers were proud fathers. Hopefully you can say goodbye at the funerals.

Best regards.

Posted by Lena on June 26, 2015 16:53

Editor Comment:

Thank you, Lena.

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Dear Alan and Chutima,
I am sorry, I didn't know both of your fathers have passed away.

They live in on your memories forever.

Posted by Tbs on June 26, 2015 17:00

Editor Comment:

Thank you, Tbs.

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I am sorry to hear both your loses and wish you both long lives (I am Jewish and that's what Jews say) Please remember though Alan the government did let you leave Thailand to visit your father which I thought was very compassionate as clearly if you did not return they would have a hard time extraditing you. The person(s) who authorised that took a huge risk especially as the case is against another section and would incur the anger of the navy if you did not return. You did return which again is admirable. Maybe have a few days off to reflect.

Posted by I am pretty far from ok on June 26, 2015 17:09

Editor Comment:

Thank you, I am pretty far from ok. We had an afternoon at the beach in 2011 and we look forward to another holiday when PW's future is decided after the trial.

I was provided with the Jewish definition of happiness once. It goes as follows: ''First the grandfather dies, then the father dies, then the son dies.'' It took me a little while to understand what was meant. But it is profound and very, very true.

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My thoughts are with both of you at this time.

It is terrible that the navy has messed around with your lives so much and taken time away from you that would have been so much better spent with your families.

I extend my condolences and wish you strength for your trials over the coming weeks.

Posted by Matt William on June 26, 2015 17:33

Editor Comment:

Thank you, Matt.

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Alan and Oi, I'm so sorry to hear of your losses. I cannot begin to understand what you both are going through.

Posted by Duncan on June 26, 2015 17:44

Editor Comment:

Thank you, Duncan.

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My sincere condolences to you both.

Posted by reader on June 26, 2015 17:48

Editor Comment:

Thank you, reader.

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My condolences to you both.

Posted by Sir Burr on June 26, 2015 18:01

Editor Comment:

Thank you, Sir Burr.

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Alan and K Chutima, I am so sorry to hear of both of your losses of both of your fathers.It is time for the Thai officials to take the blinkers off their eyes and drop this stupid case, before turning Thailand into the joke of the century.
Both of you will always be true heroes and the Thai officials can hang their heads in shame for eternity.

Posted by Robin on June 26, 2015 18:23

Editor Comment:

Thank you, Robin.

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Please accept my condolences. I am not a multi-poster, on the contrary I am a reader.....But I love you two very much and hope you will be able to cope with your losses.

Posted by Hans Mondeel on June 26, 2015 18:23

Editor Comment:

Thank you, Hans. We really appreciate your first-ever comment.

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I am not sure what to say other than your fathers must have both been very proud of you.

You are such a credit to them.

You obviously have the admiration of sympathy of many people including myself. Best wishes ..

Posted by Frank on June 26, 2015 18:43

Editor Comment:

Many thanks, Frank.

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So sorry to hear of your heartbreaking news, my sincere condolences to you both.

Posted by Discover Thainess on June 26, 2015 18:49

Editor Comment:

Thank you, Discover Thainess.

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I am Very sorry to hear that

My sincere condolences to you Alan and Khun Chutima for your losses

Posted by Mj on June 26, 2015 19:05

Editor Comment:

Thank you, Mj

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It is sad to hear that fathers of both Khun Alan and Khun Chutima have left us so soon.
Still their good wishes and a strong belief that a fairness ultimately will prevail is that what will continue to warm up hearts of their children, and not only.
A life cycle has just taken another turn.

Khun Alan and Khun Chutima, stay strong and be positive, and in good health!

Posted by Sue on June 26, 2015 19:10

Editor Comment:

Thank you, Sue. We will do our best.

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(moderated)

Posted by James on June 26, 2015 21:14

Editor Comment:

Thank you James.

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Sincere condolences to you both. I also have never commented here, but I read you daily. Your fathers raised two children of great integrity and honor. They would be most proud of your work.

Posted by T on June 26, 2015 22:32

Editor Comment:

Thank you, T.

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Like other Phuketwan readers, I am saddened that your and Chutima's father passed away, and even more sorry - angry really - that the "Domino Effect" of this case made it harder-impossible to see them as much as you both would have liked. It's good you saw him in Australia a while back. Please remember, they both knew what you were fighting for, and backed you 100% on the issue.

In regards to the pending case, you have both already won (even if it doesn't feel like it at all) on many levels, helped a lot of marginalized people, your fathers both knew it, were very proud of you both, and knew it was a battle well worth fighting, in a world where so many are not.

Yet it may be of little solace at the moment, much later it will, while many others look up to you now, including me.

Posted by farang888 on June 26, 2015 23:23

Editor Comment:

Actually, my father never did learn what was happening. I wrote him a letter but his carers thought news of what was happening would be too stressful. Perhaps he knows now.

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Condolences to you both...their strengths and good characters are now yours to carry on.

Posted by Gforcejunky on June 27, 2015 00:54

Editor Comment:

Thank you, Gforcejunky.

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Belated condolences to you both as I have just learnt about your tragedies. May God give you both the strength to conquer your grief and fight on for your rights.

Posted by Pete on June 27, 2015 04:19

Editor Comment:

Thank you, Pete.

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All a very sad state of affairs..
So how does the Thai judicial system work, do you get a jury of your peers? Either way it would be a very, very brave jury or judge that rules in your favour against a military junta methinks. Egypt continues to mostly ignore international comment and pressure re the Aljazeera journalists?

Posted by David on June 27, 2015 15:56

Editor Comment:

No possibility of a fair comparison between the Egyptian and Thai justice systems. We are placing our faith in Thai justice.

As you have probably read, one committee in the Justice Department has already declared us guilty. We have been led to believe the police should have questioned the Navy about their motivation, but if that did not happen, the Phuket Prosecutor would never have approved the case, would he?

There are no juries in the Thai system. We look forward to explaining in court why this case is a farce at every level.

We are not being sued by the military but by a captain acting on behalf of the Royal Thai Navy. The captain has told us he was acting on the orders of a superior. The action commenced well before the military takeover in Thailand.

What can certainly be said is that if this case proceeds, it will reflect poorly on judgement of the Navy and the present Thai Government.

The judiciary is independent and, given that we are never going to apologise for something we did not do, we are placing our faith in independent Thai justice.

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Alan and Chutima, my sincere sympathy and condolences.
May better times be ahead.

Posted by Arthur on June 27, 2015 16:21

Editor Comment:

Thank you, Arthur.

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Must be difficult for you both my condolences

Posted by Michael on June 27, 2015 20:28

Editor Comment:

Thank you, Michael.

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Everyone has a choice. If you choose to live far away from your family don't blame someone else for being not being with your family.

Just or unjust is up to the court to decide.

Posted by marko on June 28, 2015 03:39

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Dear Alan and Khun Chutima,

My sincere condolences. My thoughts are with you during these hard times.

Posted by Richard on June 28, 2015 06:36

Editor Comment:

Thank you, Richard.

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@marko

Marko, it looks like you have gone out of your way to make the most inappropriate and foolish comment you could.

Foolish because the navy, the police and the prosecutor all had some involvement in the charges before the staff at the Phuket court knew anything about the matter. Foolish because vexatious/unjustified criminal charges can have significant adverse affects on the lives of the accused. I could go on but I think further criticism would be lost on you marko.

Inappropriate - well that is self-evident.

Just take it from me marko, no reasonable person would share your view.

Posted by Frank on June 28, 2015 08:38

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Dear Alan and Khun Oi

It is sad to lose a parent at any time but it must be even more difficult to lose your fathers so close to the trial.

I hope that the Royal Thai Navy mellows between now and then and better understands that it is a common worldwide practice for journalists to quote other journalists. Although reputations are at stake and although reputations are important in another sense the conflict is something that is ripe for an honourable resolution.

Best wishes

Posted by Matt on July 5, 2015 11:56

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Sorry to hear about that, Alan. Best of luck for the case.

Posted by Andy Johnstone on July 6, 2015 16:48

Editor Comment:

Thanks, Andy. Hope all's well with you.


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