Reporters Without Borders

Reporters Without Borders reiterates its call for the withdrawal of all proceedings against two journalists who are to be tried tomorrow in the southwestern province of Phuket on charges of contravening the Computer Crimes Act and defaming the Royal Thai Navy for quoting from a Reuters special report on the smuggling of Rohingya refugees from neighbouring Burma.

The two journalists are Alan Morison, the Australian editor of the Phuket-based news website Phuketwan, and Chutima Sidasathian, a Thai reporter who works for the site.

The case was brought by Naval Capt. Panlob Komtonlok with the support of Admiral Polawat Sirodom, the navy’s deputy commander. Morison and Chutima are facing a possible five-year jail sentence and fine of 100,000 bahts (3,000 US dollars) under the Computer Crimes Act and another two years in prison for criminal defamation.

“Taking Phuketwan’s journalists to court is absurd,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk. “If the navy want to dispute the Reuters special report, which has just won a Pulitzer Prize, it can publicly give its version of events and demand the right of reply.

“By using the Computer Crimes Act to intimidate journalists, the navy is just making it obvious that it wants to conceal this sensitive information and deter any comments on this humanitarian scandal. We urge the court not to proceed with this improper complaint.”

Ismaïl added: “This case highlights the urgent need for reform of the Computer Crimes Acts, which is responsible for frequent violations of freedom of information by the authorities. It is also essential that the international media operating in Thailand should give this trial extensive coverage despite government pressure to ignore it.”

The special report by Reuters journalists Jason Szep and Andrew R.C. Marshall on Thai trafficking in Burma’s refugees was awarded a Pulitzer Prize on 14 March for “courageous” reporting on the Rohingya and the “predatory human-trafficking networks” to which they often fall prey.

Phuketwan has meanwhile begun a symbolic countdown to 3 May, World Press Freedom Day.

Thailand is ranked 130th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

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First, some background. The Rohingya have been systematically mistreated over the years including by the Thai military. Below is an excerpt from a previous post which summarizes much of what transpired with the Rohingya in late 2008/early 2009: The Nation should think back to the beginning of the year when the Rohingya were towed out Read more...
In an ironic and shameful twist, two Reuters journalists were awarded the Pulitzer prize for covering the plight of Burma's Rohingya while two Thailand-based reporters could face jail for republishing a paragraph from the Pulitzer-winning reports. Read more...
Harrison George

The latest attempt to remove Acting Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra over the transfer of former, and now re-instated, National Security Council Secretary-General Thawil Pliensri has run into some legal wrangling.  

The Supreme Administrative Court found that the transfer of Sec-Gen Thawil, shortly after the Yingluck administration took power, was illegal.  Thawil argued that it was motivated by the patron-client system and “if the patronage system stays strong, how can civil officials be counted on to do their jobs correctly?” he argued.

Which is all a bit rich, since his installation by the Abhisit government formed one part of an academic study on high-level bureaucratic appointments by Khon Kaen University which concluded that these are motivated by, er, the patron-client system.

It is normal for a new administration to select as head of the NSC someone who they can expect to do their bidding.  And so Thawil proved, serving as Secretary to the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation during the crackdown against the red shirts, making unproven claims that red shirts had received military training in Cambodia, and threatening to close the Burmese refugee camps and send them all home or to third countries (they’re still there).

Even after losing his job, Thawil continued to serve his masters.  His testimony at the still ongoing trial of 14 UDD leaders was a masterpiece of courtroom tactics.  First of all he came over all Ronald Reagan and claimed he couldn’t remember anything.  Then, when prompted by his own witness statement, he suddenly did remember.  A doctor’s appointment, if it please the court, sorry, can’t stay.  The court had to halt proceedings for the day.  He didn’t appear ill in any life-threatening sort of way, but hey, if he was being treated for amnesia, maybe it was the right call.

And, despite drawing a salary as a government official, he has over the past months taken to moonlighting on the PDRC stage.

It really was no surprise that the Yingluck government should find his presence at the NSC less than helpful and seek the first opportunity to shunt him off into some siding where he could do them no harm.  In some countries, like the US, such a change of personnel is de rigueur.  In Thailand, it has been done again and again.

But this time Thawil took the PM to court (since she had to sign off on his transfer) and surprise, surprise, the Supreme Administrative Court found against her.  Not that she doesn’t have the authority, but that she used this authority for the Wrong Reasons.  Penalty – re-instatement, which has been done. 

Now the Constitutional Court gets involved and decides that this ‘illegal’ transfer was done ‘for personal benefits or for the benefits of others or of a political party’ and thus a violation of Section 266 of the Constitution.  As a result, Section 182 comes into play and Yingluck loses her position as PM.

Except that since the dissolution of the House for elections that may come sometime this side of Christmas, Yingluck has not been PM but caretaker PM and another section of the constitution seems to say that she has to stay put until a new government is formed after the election.

Anti-government forces have therefore prepared a new strategy to overthrow the current government without actually staging a military coup.  And without an election, of course, which they seem bound to lose. 

The latest accusation against the Prime Minister concerns the Government Lottery Office and allegations concerning similarities between winning lottery ticket numbers and the numbers on the licence plates of vehicles owned by or associated with the Prime Minister.

These allegations have been rife since she first took office in 2011.  Gamblers then noted that the reg on a police car in her motorcade had the same numbers as that fortnight’s lottery winner.  (This is the extremely widespread illegal lottery, you should realise, based on the last 3 digits of the winning number of the official national lottery.  The government once tried to stop this diversion of funds by co-opting this system, but the courts decided that the government was being corrupt.  Well, it was a Thaksin government.)

Such ‘coincidences’ have continued with a new spate surfacing last month.  Those losing on the lottery are crying foul.  Someone dunnit, but who?

Now the powers that want to be got nowhere looking at the lottery draw.  This has been the subject of scandals down the years and now has a seemingly cast-iron method to prevent any rigging.  Layers of methods, in fact.

So attention turned to the claims that Yingluck was somehow orchestrating this for her own benefit.  This is just the kind of sneaky corrupt shenanigans that gets the Constitutional Court wetting itself.

A spokesperson from the Court says that they will find against Yingluck under Section 266 (1) for interfering in the duties of the Government Lottery Office for her own as yet to be determined benefit and then sack her under Section 182 (9) that authorizes the dismissal of caretaker Prime Ministers.

Constitutional scholars expressed great surprise at this statement.  They noted that (a) nobody has referred this case the Constitutional Court; (b) the statement seems to say that a verdict has been decided before the case is heard; and (c) there is no subsection (9) in Section 182.

The spokesperson brushed these concerns aside.  First, the Court was accepting any and every petition that threatened the government so taking on a case on its own volition was merely a way of increasing the court’s efficiency, as was a pre-determined verdict.

As for the non-existent subsection, he noted that some members of the Constitutional Court had been involved in drafting this constitution and if they now discovered that they had forgotten something, it was only natural for them to put things right and thereby save the nation.

 


About author:  Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).

 

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Academic Paul Chambers has some analysis of the situation and on the rise of Thailand’s juristocracy. Below are some brief excerpts (read the whole thing for the full picture): Perhaps a less visible trend, which has grown over the last decade, has been the rise of Thailand’s judiciary. Indeed, Thailand today possesses a weakly-developed democracy Read more...
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