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End Phuket Prosecution, Says ICJ

End Phuket Prosecution, Says ICJ

Monday, June 29, 2015
Thailand: end prosecution of Phuketwan journalists for reporting on Rohingya trafficking crisis

THE THAI Government must drop criminal charges against two journalists from the online news outlet Phuketwan who are about to go on trial on 14 July 2015 for writing about the trafficking of the Rohingya, the ICJ said today.

The trial revolves around criminal charges brought by the Royal Thai Navy against Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian for reproducing one paragraph from a Pulitzer Prize-winning article written by Reuters news agency implicating the Navy in the smuggling of the Rohingya off the coast of Thailand.

''Thailand must drop these charges immediately and unconditionally,'' said Sam Zarifi, ICJ's Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.

''Criminal prosecution of speech is a violation of international law, and the Thai Navy's relentless pursuit of this case seems even more misguided as it comes at a time when journalists have played a vital role in uncovering mass graves on the Thailand-Malaysia border and thousands of migrants and refugees, including Rohingya, left stranded on boats in the Andaman Sea,'' he added.

On 16 December 2013, the Royal Thai Navy lodged complaints of criminal defamation and offences against Thailand's Computer Crimes Act (CCA) against the journalists.

On 17 April 2014, the journalists were charged with criminal defamation under articles 326 and 328 of the Thai Criminal Code, which carry a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment and a fine of up to 200,000 Baht (USD $6000); and violation of article 14(1) of the CCA, which carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment and a fine of up to 100,000 Baht (USD $3000).

''The absurdity of these prosecutions was emphasised when the Office of Thailand's Prime Minister recently asked one of the two journalists, Chutima Sidasathian, who is working towards a PhD on the Rohingya, to suggest a solution to the 'boat people' crisis,'' Zarifi further said.

''It is not too late to follow that request with an unconditional withdrawal of all charges as an official recognition of the important work by Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian in raising these issues and as a concrete gesture of Thailand's purported commitment to addressing them,'' he added.

Contact

Sam Zarifi, ICJ Asia Pacific Regional Director (Bangkok), t: +66 807819002; e: sam.zarifi(a)icj.org

Background

Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a State Party, guarantees the right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to impart information.

The UN Human Rights Committee, which monitors State compliance with the ICCPR, has expressed its concern at the misuse of defamation laws to criminalise freedom of expression and has said that such laws should never be used when expression is made without malice and in the public interest.

The ICJ, an increasing number of governments, the Human Rights Committee and other international authorities, believe that criminal defamation laws should be abolished.

Such laws are inherently incompatible with the ICCPR and other international laws and standards on freedom of expression.

Criminal penalties are always a disproportionate means to protect against reputational harm and pose an impermissibly severe impediment to the exercise of free expression.

Thailand was criticised in May 2014 when the United Nations Committee Against Torture expressed its concern ''at the numerous and consistent allegations of serious acts of reprisals and threats against human rights defenders, journalists, community leaders and their relatives, including verbal and physical attacks, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, as well as by the lack of information provided on any investigations into such allegations.''

The Committee recommended that Thailand ''should take all the necessary measures to: (a) put an immediate halt to harassment and attacks against human rights defenders, journalists and community leaders; and (b) systematically investigate all reported instances of intimidation, harassment and attacks with a view to prosecuting and punishing perpetrators, and guarantee effective remedies to victims and their families.''

About the ICJ

COMPOSED OF 60 eminent judges and lawyers from all regions of the world, the International Commission of Jurists promotes and protects human rights through the Rule of Law, by using its unique legal expertise to develop and strengthen national and international justice systems. Established in 1952 and active on the five continents, the ICJ aims to ensure the progressive development and effective implementation of international human rights and international humanitarian law; secure the realisation of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights; safeguard the separation of powers; and guarantee the independence of the judiciary and legal profession.

From its regional headquarters in Bangkok, ICJ has been working for several years to improve the rule of law and respect for human rights in Southeast Asia. The region has shown remarkable economic and political growth in the past decade, but the development has been uneven, with significant reverses in terms of the human rights situation as well as ongoing failures to respond to demands for justice and accountability.

Comments

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Excellent!

Posted by Ian Yarwood on June 29, 2015 20:35

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The navy does not seem to care about international public opinion.

But, does it care about evidence? Does it care about facts? Does it care about the law? Does it care about human rights? Does it care about freedom of speech?

I am at a loss.

Posted by Matt William on June 29, 2015 20:43

Editor Comment:

''The Navy'' unfortunately allowed one or two officers to press this case based on rumor, ego and paranoia. And now, there is no mistake . . . instead, Phuketwan is being asked to ''apologise.'' Can the Navy tell right from wrong? We hope so.

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"The absurdity of these prosecutions was emphasised when the Office of Thailand's Prime Minister recently asked.. Chutima Sidasathian, who is working towards a PhD on the Rohingya, to suggest a solution to the 'boat people' crisis.."

One may infer from this statement that all will be well for Phuketwan journalists - but WHEN is the million dollar question?

The wheels of justice often turn at a speed much too slow for victims, and those (read everyone) that would suffer under the Domino Effect of a Navy victory vs. not-so-little-anymore Phuketwan..

Posted by farang888 on June 29, 2015 22:14

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Sam Zarifi & ICJ Asia Pacific Regional Director (Bangkok) are my Hero's of the Month! Aplaus for them. I hope this article gets worldwide attention. Phuket; Alan & Chutima this is the support & recognition you deserve!

Posted by phuketgreed on June 29, 2015 23:05

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Isn't it odd when the US government lambasts the PM for human rights abuses and anti-democratic actions and the general then asks the US for specific examples? A day later he orders his junta to arrest 14 students for allegedly violating the ban on political gatherings, and yesterday detained a further 3 students in Chiang Mai for 'political dissent'. This, and many other cases makes him blind and deaf to world opinion.

Posted by Pete on June 30, 2015 07:47

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It seems inconceivable to me that the likes of Governments, UN, NGOs et al were not aware of the plight of the Rohingya long before your exposure.( must be millions worldwide who's plight is all but ignored and swept under the carpet?) One wonders if the latter organizations have not just hitched to your wagon of a cause celebre. If your horse stumbles and falls let us hope there will be someone to take up the reins of a new wagon.

Posted by David on June 30, 2015 08:23

Editor Comment:

The Rohingya have been mistreated in Burma for years and NGOs such as the Arakan Project were around, trying to help. But only with the revelation of the ''pushbacks'' in 2009 and the more constant coverage since has the horror of Burma and Thailand working in tandem to paper over this nightmare been fully exposed. There is no cause for cynicism. NGOs, like Phuketwan, can tell right from wrong. Governments and navies sometimes struggle.

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I agree with all the comments above but it was not lost on me that the second paragraph of the ICJ press release was not entirely accurate.

Reuters won the Pulitzer Prize for a series of reports on the Rohingya including a report published on 5 December 2013. That later report specifically pointed the finger at the Royal Thai Navy.

The 41-word paragraph that Phuketwan republished on 17 July 2013 did not name nor implicate the Royal Thai Navy. The vague term "Thai naval forces" was used in that paragraph.

In the context of the Reuters series of articles "Thai naval forces" could mean the Thai Marine Police or militia commanders or the Royal Thai Navy.

"Thai naval forces" simply does not mean "Royal Thai Navy."

"Royal Thai Navy" is a proper noun. In the term "Thai naval forces" the word "Thai" is an adjective, "naval" is an adjective and "forces" is a noun.

The meanings are completely different and the translator for the Royal Thai Navy made a serious blunder. A very serious blunder.

Ian Yarwood
Solicitor - Perth, Western Australia

Posted by Ian Yarwood on June 30, 2015 08:51

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Perhaps it it is not inconceivable that you will be nominated and receive the Nobel Peace Prize? Lucrative lecture tours, glad handing with hypocritical, phony, conciliatory heads of state etc etc??? Sadly a good few recipients have been shown to be self serving hypocrites...
Oh and yes! sadly I AM a chronic cynic as to the motives of the majority of those who profess to care about humanity,those commendable organizations that actually do are in the minority methinks.

Posted by David on June 30, 2015 09:21

Editor Comment:

We are not holding our breath for a Nobel, David. So much of what happens these days is about marketing. Thailand is now marketing itself to the US as a reformed place on trafficking. The way to prove that reform has taken place would be to offer to provide a peacekeeping force to protect the Rohingya in Rakhine state.

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International laws, like so many laws are just written by hypocritical autocrats. There are never any statutes to enforce the latter. If there was perhaps half the world's leaders and governments would be jailed or knocked on the head.
Anyways let's hope for a positive outcome to your trals ed and Chatima.

Posted by david on July 12, 2015 10:19

Editor Comment:

Many thanks, david.

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The USA's National Public Radio (www.NPR) hourly update today is reporting on the trial via their correspondent in Chang Rai. I expect to see an article in their international news section today or the following days. This is a frivolous lawsuit. A countersuit should have been filed.

Posted by Wayne on July 15, 2015 13:55

Editor Comment:

The point is that these laws are repressive and shouldn't exist, let alone be used again in response to waste the time of the justice system. Great to get US reaction. Thanks, Wayne.


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