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Turtles are freed: Rohingya and the media are less than free

Sisters Write Open Letters to 100 Resorts

Saturday, February 15, 2014
PHUKET: Four sisters of a Phuket journalist facing criminal defamation charges have called on scores of top tourist resorts on the Andaman coast to question their relationships with the Royal Thai Navy.

Some of the resorts hold turtle releases with the Navy but one of the sisters of journalist Alan Morison said today: ''Freeing turtles is great but the Navy also needs reminding that Thailand desperately needs a free media.''

Morison and Phuketwan colleague Chutima Sidasathian face up to seven years in jail under charges brought by a captain on behalf of the Royal Thai Navy.

Two journalists with the Reuters news agency are also the subject of a complaint and likely to be charged.

The United Nations human rights organisation and other rights groups have said the charges are wrong and should be dropped immediately.

One of Morison's sisters, Jenny Braddy, said today that the emails going out to more than 100 resorts this weekend marked the beginning of a social media campaign over the Navy's unacceptable treatment of journalists and its apparent tolerance of human trafficking of Rohingya in Thailand.

''Media freedom and the proper treatment of Burma's stateless Rohingya people are what this is about,'' Ms Braddy said today.

''It seems odd for the Royal Thai Navy to want to set turtles free yet to want to jail journalists for doing their democratic duty by reporting the truth.''

The sisters are calling on five-star and four-star resorts on and around Phuket to consider whether turtle releases with the Royal Thai Navy are appropriate in light of the Navy's targetting of journalists and the lack of human trafficking arrests.

''The Navy has such a good reputation for its rescues of tourists and its charity work but that reputation is now being tarnished because it fails to intervene in human trafficking and it persecutes journalists,'' Ms Braddy said.

She and her Australian and New Zealand based sisters plan to spread the word widely about Rohingya treatment and the Royal Thai Navy's attempt to stifle free speech.

As well as the UN, the powerful activist group Anonymous and the campaigning community of Avaaz.org, which has 32 million members worldwide, are likely to join in.

On March 10 Morison and Khun Chutima will learn from the Phuket Prosecutor whether they are to face court over the complaint, brought by Captain Panlob Komtonlok of the Royal Thai Navy.

The journalists have said they will go to jail rather than apply for bail if the case proceeds.

The sisters have already written to Navy chiefs in Australia, the US, Britain and New Zealand asking them to reconsider their relationships with the Royal Thai Navy if the charges against the journalists are not dropped.

Open Letter to Resort Owners, General Managers


Ravi Chandran
- MD Laguna Phuket

Anchalika Kijkanakorn
- Aleenta Phuket Phang Nga

Acting General Manager
- JW Marriott Phuket

cc 100 more Andaman resorts

Dear Phuket, Phang Nga and Krabi Resorts,

YOU ARE probably aware by now of the Royal Thai Navy's planned court action against reporters from Phuket and the Reuters news agency.

By using criminal defamation laws and the Computer Crimes Act to sue journalists, the Royal Thai Navy is breaching conventional behavior. In all democracies, the military and the media have important and equal roles to play.

The military in Britain, Australia, Europe and the US react to criticism by contacting the journalists involved, by holding media conferences, or by undertaking independent investigations of allegations.

An arm of the military suing the media is a heavy-handed response that indicates a lack of understanding of what democracy is all about. It's a surprising precedent in Thailand, where participatory democracy is now under discussion and where the military has shown reluctance and restraint in unleashing its enormous powers.

Instead of making a simple telephone call, the Royal Thai Navy has sued using contentious laws that virtually all rights activists feel are unreasonable and inappropriate for any democracy.

What the Royal Thai Navy should be doing is explaining its part in the unacceptable treatment of the Rohingya, described by the UN as the most downtrodden people on Earth. Warships patrol the Andaman Sea, through which thousands of Rohingya are being trafficked from Burma. The Navy has nothing to say.

We know the Royal Thai Navy is a good organisation, so we can only assume that this unreasonable action against Phuketwan and Reuters is being taken on bad advice.

But the ramifications for a free media and democracy in Thailand are huge. We cannot let even a simple turtle release pass without reminding those involved of the Navy's less noble activities.

For every turtle that is released, we would like resorts to ask Royal Thai Navy officers whether the media in Thailand should also be free . . . and when.

Yours respectfully in peace,

Jenny Braddy,
Cathy Schmierer
Jill Morison
Lisa Kovaleff


What Others Have To 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.''

British Ambasador to Thailand, Mark Kent
''We raised concerns about those charges directly with the Thai Navy during the recent visit of HMS Daring and the Commander in Chief of the British Navy, Admiral Sir George Zambellas, to Thailand.''

Australian Ambassador to Thailand, James Wise
''My colleagues and I at the Australian Embassy remain ready to provide further consular assistance to you, should it be required, and I can assure you that we will continue to closely monitor your case. Australian officials are . . . taking your case seriously and they have raised it with senior Thai officials.''

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 magazine
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.

fox2fox.ru (Russian Media)
''Your courage and devotion to work always struck and inspired us, your ability accurately to follow the code of journalistic honor and to find such news which any other edition can't find. We often translate your materials into Russian, and with pride we refer to you because you are professionals of the business! You are very courageous journalists and we hope that justice will prevail.''

Reuters
Barb Burg, Reuters' 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.

Comments

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gravatar

Until plastic bags are prevented from getting into the oceans, all the turtle releases in the world won't help their decline.

Posted by The Night Mare on February 17, 2014 13:25


Wednesday December 13, 2017
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