Countdown to World Media Freedom Day: Day 9
PHUKET: Expats on Phuket felt strongly about media freedom and would be prepared to protest outside Phuket's Royal Thai Navy base if necessary, audience members told Phuketwan journalists last night.
Chutima Sidasathian and Alan Morison gave a talk to a small but enthusiastic gathering at an International Business Association of Phuket meeting at Urban Food in Central Festival Phuket.
The pair have been accused of criminal defamation and a breach of the Computer Crimes Act by the Royal Thai Navy for republishing a paragraph from a Reuters special report on the Rohingya boatpeople in July last year.
Khun Chutima and Morison face seven years in jail and/or a 100,000 baht fine and are due to appear at Phuket Provincial Court on Thursday.
Thailand's Human Rights Commission is to question the Navy and police about the use of contentious laws by the military to sue the media, an action unprecedented in Thailand.
In most democracies, branches of the military settle disputes with the media by making telephone calls to discuss issues with editors or by holding a media conference to express their point of view.
Yesterday the journalists appealed to Phuket's Damrungtam office and the Phuket Press Club to make sure Phuket residents were aware that the action by the Navy is out of character and undemocratic.
The pair have also written an Open Letter to noted businessman Bill Heinecke, whose Minor International brand is expanding internationally. asking him to alert Thailand's business community to the dangers posed by this unprecedented military action.
Thailand will face international condemnation and could possibly slip down both the Human Trafficking Watchlist and the World Media Freedom nation-by-nation listings as the case proceeds.
There has already been one street protest in central Melbourne, Australia, and more street protests are planned. The possibility of a public demonstration on Phuket was raised by audience members last night - and supported enthusiastically.
Morison said that he and Khun Chutima held the Royal Thai Navy in high regard but that one or two people had given the service bad advice that led to the use of the much-criticised criminal defamation laws and the Computer Crimes Act.
''We think these one or two people are out to close down Phuketwan,'' he said. ''There is no other explanation for this action. Reuters has not been charged. Other Thai news outlets that published the same paragraph have also not been charged.''
Morison said the Andaman coast north and south of Phuket had become a haven for human traffickers as the number of Rohingya fleeing persecution in Burma increased.
''It has become a local industry in some Andaman coast villages,'' he said. ''Yet I don't recall the Navy or other authorities ever arresting a human trafficker.''
The case has united the issue of the treatment of the Rohingya with the issue of media freedom in Thailand.
In its most recent special report on human trafficking in Thailand, Reuters yesterday quoted Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, as saying that Thailand's figures on trafficking were flawed because of the absence of Rohingya among the list of trafficking victims.
Thailand failed to recognise "the grievous rights abuses the Rohingya suffer in these [secret] jungle camps, and the fundamental failures of the Thai government to do much about it.''
Thailand's policy is obscure because the Navy remains silent and secretive about the levels of human trafficking taking place. In contrast, the Commander of Immigration Division 6, Police Major General Thatchai Pitaneelaboot, encourages media investigations and wants to know the truth.
Phuketwan is taking part in an international 30 day countdown to the 30th anniversary of World Media Freedom Day on May 3.