Open Letter from Phuketwan to a Leading Thai Businessman
Mr William Heinecke,
Minor International Plc
Dear Mr Heinecke,
PHUKETWAN hopes your large and growing investments in Thailand, Australia and elsewhere continue to flourish, but we feel that we have to warn you about a serious menace that is growing just as fast.
It seems to us that a man investing billions on the strength of Thailand's reputation needs to understand that Thailand's reputation is now being damaged by the Royal Thai Navy in a landmark case against two Phuketwan journalists.
The action has been heavily criticised by the UN human rights body and many other rights groups, inside and outside Thailand. There has even been one street protest in Melbourne, and there will be more.
The big danger is that if the Royal Thai Navy does not end the case, it will inevitably, in the short term and the long term, damage investment and tourism in Thailand.
Why? Because in democracies, the military does not become a bully and sue the media. If there's a problem, admirals in Australia, the US, Britain and other democracies will pick up the telephone and complain to an editor, or call a media conference.
Thailand has some bad laws covering criminal defamation and the Computer Crimes Act that don't exist in other democracies, where disputes between the military and the media are amicably settled.
The positive aspect of this misguided case, with a good organisation using bad laws, is that it will draw attention to two key issues: the need for media freedom in Thailand and the appalling treatment of thousands of Rohingya boatpeople being trafficked through Thailand.
This foolish action by one or two ill-advised people in the Royal Thai Navy is likely to contribute to two disasters: Thailand sliding down both the US Human Trafficking Watchlist and the World Press Media Freedom List.
We would hope a maturing democracy would be righting the wrongs in both issues. But democracy in Thailand is now on the nose, thanks to the Navy.
We remain surprised and shocked at this court action. Let's hope sensible commanders correct this mistake quickly.
Like you, we share an appreciation for the role the Royal Thai Navy plays in protecting and releasing turtles, sometimes at your Phuket and Andaman coast resorts.
Like you, we respect the role the Royal Thai Navy plays in rescuing tourists in trouble off the coast.
Like you, we deeply appreciate the way that the Royal Thai Navy rebuilt villages after the destruction of the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.
But when you next visit Australia to check on your growing investment there, you are likely to be asked why Thailand's military does not understand the basic need for media freedom in a democracy.
You are likely to be asked why the Royal Thai Navy remains so secretive and never discloses the truth about what happens to the Rohingya boatpeople off the coast and inside Thailand.
And you are likely to be asked why, if it's easy in Thailand to be prosecuted for republishing one single paragraph from Reuters news agency, any decent-minded tourist or investor would want to go there.
We ask you to use your influence to make sure Thailand's entire business community fully understands the issue and urges the Royal Thai Navy to stop damaging Thailand's reputation, before it's too late.
William Heinecke recently announced a further investment of five billion baht on Phuket. He also visited Australia, where his hospitality investments are growing rapidly. The MINT group employs about 40,000 people in Thailand and is noted for its quality approach.
Phuketwan is taking part in a 30-day countdown to the 30th anniversary of World Media Freedom Day on May 3.