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Open Letter Calling for the Muslim World to Watch Over Phuket's Rohingya Trial

Open Letter Calling for the Muslim World to Watch Over Phuket's Rohingya Trial

Monday, June 29, 2015
Open Letter to the 57 Nations of the Organisation for Islamic Co-operation

Dear OIC Member Nations,

The OIC has shown great concern for the Rohingya of Burma, who continue to be driven into the sea by religious intolerance and hate.

For seven years, our small news outlet, Phuketwan, has been covering the exodus of these boatpeople through Thailand, spotlighting the human trafficking and the complicity of Thai officials.

At the weekend, my colleague Chutima Sidasathian, and I learned that the Prime Minister of Thailand, Prayuth Chan-o-cha, has rejected a suggestion that an ill-advised criminal defamation action brought against us by the Royal Thai Navy should be withdrawn.

The trial will now be going ahead at Phuket Provincial Court from July 14-16.

We would greatly appreciate it if the OIC could possibly send an official observer. We are also encouraging widespread media coverage of this trial in all 57 OIC member nations.

It's vital that the international community is represented to see how whistleblowers are treated in Thailand. We have done our best to reveal to the world Thailand's dirtiest secret.

The pages of Phuketwan contain more than 1400 articles that reference ''Rohingya.''

In all modesty, we can say that since 2008, our coverage of the Rohingya exodus has been a key to raising international awareness of the plight of these desperate people.

Recent exposure of the graves of luckless trafficking victims in Thailand and the boats bobbing offshore has revealed more fully the horrors that Phuketwan has been accurately recording now for seven years.

During that time, the Royal Thai Navy, along with the Burmese Navy, has been attempting to maintain silence about what was happening to the Rohingya, and to the Bangladeshis who more recently joined them in the boats.

In December 2013, in an attempt to end Phuketwan's coverage of this shocking breach of international human rights standards, one or two officers misusing the good name of the Royal Thai Navy sued me, Chutima Sidasathian and Phuketwan's parent company, under Thailand's repressive criminal defamation and Computer Crimes Act laws.

As the world now knows, all of the thousands of victims who were murdered, raped, tortured and extorted in fleeing Burma and Bangladesh are Muslims.

For this reason, we believe it is vital that the eyes of the Islamic world turn towards this trial on Phuket.

Without the efforts of the dedicated reporters at Phuketwan, this story of constant persecution and maltreatment in Burma and Thailand would never have been told.

We are simply reporters who have been dedicated to doing our job.

The Royal Thai Navy chose to sue us over republication of a single paragraph from a Reuters' news agency series that soon after won a prestigious Pulitzer Prize.

We know the Royal Thai Navy wants to silence Phuketwan because Reuters and other organisations that reproduced the exact same paragraph have not been charged.

The Prime Minister of Thailand and the Thai government have been called upon by the United Nations, the European Union, Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists, Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists and many other organisations to drop this misguided action.

We face a maximum of seven years in jail, just for doing our jobs. As we have said, the Royal Thai Navy will need to kill us to stop us reporting on the Rohingya issue.

Now, with the Thai government rejecting pleas for commonsense to be restored, we seek the help of the OIC in observing and reporting on our trial.

Alan Morison,

Essential Background

ALAN MORISON and Chutima Sidasathian 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.

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''.

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.

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.''


''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.


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."


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.


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 have been disabled for this article.


you gournalist should go and live with the rohingya people if you love them so much.thailand is right to throw them out.its not their country.

Posted by Malcolm Proctor on June 29, 2015 05:19

Editor Comment:

Your understanding of the issues seems remarkably limited, Malcolm. Could you possibly be a thoughtless bigot?


You paper has done a fantastic job trying to bring this to the attention of the World.
As for Malcolm you are a complete and utter idiot. It is people like you that don't deserve to be on this planet. Go and have a good look at yourself in the mirror.


Posted by Chaseable on June 29, 2015 07:48


If you are exonerated or the Court verdict rules in PW's favour, are you able to similarly lay a counter civil claim on the individuals who blackened your good name?

Posted by Hugh Jarse on June 29, 2015 11:25

Editor Comment:

We hope the Royal Thai Navy would take action against whomsoever is to blame for this big mistake. The problem is that it's easy to hide in a big organisation whose good name you are misusing. The case has cost us financially and emotionally but we are against the use of these outrageous laws. We will fight on to the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court if necessary but the case is so misguided we believe every judge in Thailand would decide in our favor. We are not likely to countersue because we believe these laws are truly bad.


@ Hugh Jarse and Chaseable

Have you noticed that no one is speaking up for the Royal Thai Navy? In contrast, there is mounting international support for Phuketwan.

There will be some individuals within the navy, the police force and the prosecutor's office who have some answering to do. I hope they don't just hide under their desks protected by the organisations and government they are supposed to serve.

Posted by Frank on June 29, 2015 12:56

Editor Comment:

We would be keen to face the officer who is behind the charges, rather than the captain, who was acting on someone else's orders. In defamation cases, the person who feels defamed is almost always required to appear to explain the reasons for their actions . . . except in Thailand where the military is involved.It would be useful to take a poll to see how many officers in the Navy realise a mistranslation when they see one. I suspect many Navy officers - we know there are many good people in uniform - would be surprised and a little shocked at this breach of the principles of demoracy. In democracies, the military does not sue the media.


Then the Captain who signed off on the charges should surely be taken to task, under Thailand's own existing laws and made to defend his actions by disclosing who exactly ordered him to take this embarressing action.
Perhaps then, when the shoe is on the other foot someone in authority might realise the folly of this ridiculous legal pursuit.

Posted by Hugh Jarse on June 29, 2015 16:16

Editor Comment:

Officers are obliged to obey orders. We think the folly of this action will be more clearly understood the closer the trial nears.


" is vital that the eyes of the Islamic world turn towards this trial on Phuket."

Ed: I don't think that you and Chutima realized when you copied a small paragraph from Reuters that you would
have such a huge effect on world-wide media transparency in journalism, AND facilitating an Olive Branch from the west to Islam.

This is that big a deal, and the world is slowly but surely "getting it." Even sleeping giants wake up once in a long while.

Posted by farang888 on June 29, 2015 22:31


Hi Malcolm,
Aha..I remember you now! You're the guy that said Terry Fox was running across Canada (on one leg) for selfish purposes, only to garner media attention, and we agreed to disagree.

Your back! And your post here illustrates that you still have plenty of unresolved issues. Pity that. I told you to stop drinking back in 1980. How is that working for you so far?

Posted by farang888 on June 29, 2015 22:36


Dear Phuketwan Associates,

I just sent a message to OIC via their contact form about your desire for them to send an official observer by giving link to this page.

Thank you for bringing this issue into the spotlight and I wish a swift conclusion to this trial in your favor.

Best of luck to you all.

Posted by Nihat, from Turkey on July 8, 2015 16:16

Editor Comment:

Thank you, Nihat.


It saddens me greatly that not only the Rohingya suffer so greatly but that those trying to help are now persecuted as well.
I am concerned that the western style of advocacy in this matter on your behalf may not have been efficacious. At stake is the pride of the Thai military, which is very sensitive now it is the government of Thailand too. Have other more private avenues been considered? Can representations be couched in a neutral way so that face-saving can be attempted? Perhaps this has been already tried without success.
I am a law lecturer in KL and used to practise criminal law in Australia as defence barrister. If there is anything that you think that I could try, assist with or persons to contact, please let me know.
Chock dii Khun Alan and Khun Chutima

Posted by Simon on July 13, 2015 20:19

Editor Comment:

Thank you, Simon.


You should have countersued. This is a frivolous lawsuit.

Posted by Wayne on July 15, 2015 13:47

Editor Comment:

We'd prefer the law to be canned or at least use as it was intended - for hackers and media data thieves..

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