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Chutima Sidasathian interviews captured Rohingya in Thailand, 2009

Phuketwan Defamation Case Draws Criticism From Human Rights Watch

Friday, April 17, 2015
BANGKOK: When Associated Press revealed last month that thousands of foreign workers were enslaved on fishing boats sending catches through Thailand to the world's fish markets the country's military ruler pledged to prosecute those responsible amid an outcry from the US seafood and retail industries.

"If they still continue to exploit their fellow human beings they should not be given any licences to operate businesses in Thailand and they must receive the punishment they deserve," said junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Seafood processed in Thai factories is a multi-billion dollar industry and one of the country's top export earners.

But as Thailand's military-appointed government laid out new anti-human trafficking laws, the Royal Thai Navy has pressed ahead with criminal proceedings against Australian journalist Alan Morison and his Thai colleague Chutima Sidasathian for reporting on trafficking of ethnic Rohingya boat people.

"This effort to silence the media criticism has backfired against the navy, which should act swiftly to cut its losses," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

"The Thai authorities should direct the navy to unconditionally drop its baseless charges against the two journalists," he said.

Since Mr Morison, a former senior Age editor and Ms Chutima, were charged one year ago, on April 17 2014, with defamation and violating the Computer Crimes Act, they have been classified as criminals in the country where defamation laws are often used against political or business opponents and more than 90 per cent of cases that go to trial end in convictions.

If convicted Mr Morison and Ms Chutima could be imprisoned for up to two years on the defamation charges and up to five years under the Computer Crimes Act.

They are scheduled to go to trial on July 14 to 16.

For years Mr Morison's Phuketwan news website based on the Thai resort island of Phuket has published award-winning stories about the plight of Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Mynamar who have been described by the United Nations as among the world's most persecuted people.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya have taken to unsafe boats to flee Myanmar, the country also called Burma.

The defamation charges relate to one paragraph published in Phuketwan on July 17 2013 that cited a Reuters investigative report alleging some navy officials "work systematically with smugglers to profit from the surge in fleeing Rohingya."

Reuters, which won a Pulitzer prize for the story, has not been charged.

Human Rights Watch says the charges against the Phuketwan journalists violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Thailand has ratified, that guarantees the right to freedom of expression.

"The Phuketwan journalists are among the few who are still regularly reporting on the pervasive human trafficking of Rohingya in Thailand," Mr Adams said.

"Thailand's efforts to show progress in tackling human trafficking are seriously damaged by this shoot-the-messenger action against journalists exposing abuses."

The Associated Press revelations that foreign workers were treated as slaves on fishing boats - including some of them beaten and locked in cages - came after the US State Department last year blacklisted Thailand for its handling of labour abuses and human trafficking, putting it on par with countries including North Korea and Iran.

But following Associated Press's expose Thailand moved to mandate wages, sick leave and shifts of no more than 14 hours on boats.

Tougher penalties for violating Thailand anti-human trafficking laws will include the death penalty.

Fairfax Media

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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The Thai authorities will be blocking HRW website soon no doubt. I just noticed Andrew Drummonds site is now blocked in Thailand maybe PW next? Good luck with the case Alan

Posted by R.G. on April 17, 2015 15:48

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Indeed Drummonds website has been blocked in Thailand - he must have been getting to close to the truth.

Posted by John M on April 18, 2015 09:42

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They are going too far banning Andrew Drummond website

Posted by Michael on April 18, 2015 11:21

Editor Comment:

Who is ''they'' and why is the site blocked? AD targets expat cheats and thieves in Thailand. Hard to see any benefit in blocking his work.

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They are the government as you see from the notice
You see when you try and aaccess his website

Yes bit bemused why it would be banned as you say he usually exposes foreign criminals operating in Thailand

Posted by Michael on April 18, 2015 11:34

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"AD targets expat cheats and thieves in Thailand. Hard to see any benefit in blocking his work"

because these cheats and thieves usually have to pay off officials high ranking at times to turn a blind eye.

Posted by pies R us on April 18, 2015 13:51

Editor Comment:

Hard to see the cheats and thieves blocking a site. As AD was primarily for expats and in the English language, readers deserve an explanation. Maybe those outside Thailand will get one.

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Dear Editor

You are probably aware that the Fairfax Media story has been very widely published within Australia over the past 24 hours.

I hope that the Navy comes to the conclusion that the appropriate and most honorable course for it to take is to unconditionally drop the charges against you and Khun Chutima.

Ian Yarwood
Solicitor - Perth, Western Australia

Posted by Ian Yarwood on April 18, 2015 14:04

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Hard to see the cheats and thieves blocking a site.

its been blocked by the Thai government. maybe AD work was revealing too much

Posted by pies R us on April 18, 2015 14:10


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