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End Rohingya Misery, Royal Thai Navy Told

End Rohingya Misery, Royal Thai Navy Told

Friday, May 16, 2014
PHUKET: A stinging editorial in the Washington Post, one of the most influential newspapers in the world, calls on the Royal Thai Navy today to drop charges against Phuketwan over human trafficking and move to end the misery of the Rohingya boatpeople.

''Instead of seeking to rectify the situation, the Royal Navy has denied mistreating the refugees and decided to intimidate the messenger,'' the editorial says.

The Post's viewpoint comes with Thailand's position on the Trafficking in Persons register under last-minute review and with Thailand's place on media freedom listings also in jeopardy because of the Royal Thai Navy's pursuit of Phuketwan.

Journalists Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian appear before the Law Reform Commission in Bangkok next Thursday and go on trial at Phuket Provincial Court on May 26.

By suing the journalists for criminal defamation and a breach of the highly controversial Computer Crimes Act, the Royal Thai Navy has triggered worldwide interest in the service's silent and secret approach to the Rohingya boatpeople and its repressive and undemocratic approach to media coverage in Thailand.

The case attracted even more global interest last month when Reuters news agency won a prestigious Pulitzer prize for a series on the Rohingya. Phuketwan is being sued over a single 41-word Pulitzer-winning paragraph, republished word for word from one of Reuters' Pulitzer-prize-winning reports.

Although Reuters is about to be sued over the same paragraph, the large international news agency has yet to speak in defence of its paragraph in Phuketwan, choosing instead to waft in general terms about media freedom.

The Washington Post expounds fully on the Reuters paragraph today.

Phuketwan hesitates to republish some key passages of the editorial because, as a small, vulnerable Phuket-based news outlet that has been covering the Rohingya issue for seven years, we appear to be the kind of target that the Royal Thai Navy prefers.

Of the Rohingya, pushed out of Burma (Myanmar) by racism coupled with ethnic cleansing, the Post today notes ''Hundreds have died at sea and others have been pulled into a growing vortex of human smuggling . . .

''So what has Thailand done? Instead of seeking to rectify the situation, the Royal Navy has denied mistreating the refugees and decided to intimidate the messenger.''

The editorial concludes: ''This is a sad case of Thailand's navy attempting to extinguish reporting rather than the misery that the reporting exposed. It is wrong to punish the journalists.

''But this misguided attempt at coercion is doubly wrong because it attempts to hide the shameful treatment of a people, the Rohingya, who are already suffering far too much.''

International condemnation of the Royal Thai Navy and Thailand is likely to intensify as the court action begins against Phuketwan. The case could run for as long as 10 years, up to the Supreme Court, lawyers advise, so condemnation could continue for a decade.

Morison says that navy officers should have telephoned Phuketwan or held a media conference back in July last year, when the controversial 41 words first appeared in Reuters and on Phuketwan later the same day.

''That would have settled the matter quickly,'' Morison said. ''That's what the military does in any true democracy when they have a problem with the media.''

Instead of rectifying the perceived slight with a telephone call, the Navy, which has a base on Phuket, went to local police to launch an action that could see the journalists jailed for seven years, with Morison as a director of Phuketwan's parent company facing up to 14 years.

Earlier this week, a team of officials from Thailand concluded anti-trafficking meetings in Washington with Members of Congress, the Department of State's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP), and the Department of Labor.

A media release said the officials wanted to ''set straight what might have been gravely misrepresented in recent media coverage''.

The Thai Embassy in Washington, which issued the upbeat media release, has yet to respond to requests for factual details so the statistical information can be checked by journalists with an interest in covering the fate of the Rohingya, an interest that is growing day by day.

The Royal Thai Navy has yet to accept an offer from Phuketwan to take as much space in the online magazine as it requires to explain its view of the Rohingya issue, or media coverage, or both, without editing.

A London-based organisation, the Media Legal Defence Initiative, is funding Phuketwan's legal costs.

Washington Post Editorial: How Thailand is contributing to the misery of Burma's persecuted Rohingya

The Nation Cartoon:

Navy Uses Computer Crimes Act to Sue:

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' 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, 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.


My admiration for you keeps growing. Keep on Going! You are for me the Nr.1 News source in Thailand.
Presistand, fast, to the Point, reliable, solid, thrust worthy and so on. I do hope the Court wears no "blinkers", like the Thai Navy seems to do.

Posted by PhuketExpat on May 16, 2014 12:45


Finally, a big fish ups the ante and stirs it up, and the stench in the air is wafting directly into the nostrils of the Pulitzer Prize winners ( and the Navy ), as they wax eloquently on their trophy, taking bows and kudos, their accomplishment largely courtesy of others, like Chutima and Alan. My pen rai..Reuters feels no shame nor guilt, because their entitlement, arrogance, greed and ignorance precludes having empathy for the hands that fed the Reuters money machine. Basically ditto for the Navy..

Posted by Dean on May 17, 2014 06:10

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