Posts Tagged ‘Phil Robertson’

Vietnam jails dissident nine years for propaganda against state

July 25, 2017

HANOI (Reuters) – A court in Vietnam jailed a prominent dissident for nine years and gave her five years of probation for spreading propaganda against the state, her lawyer said on Tuesday, in what appeared to be the Communist-ruled country’s latest crackdown on critics.

Despite sweeping reforms to its economy and growing openness to social change, including gay, lesbian and transgender rights, Vietnam’s Communist Party retains tight media censorship and does not tolerate criticism.

Blogger Tran Thi Nga was found guilty at a one-day trial in the northern province of Ha Nam, six months after being arrested for posting the offending material on the internet, lawyer Ha Huy Son said.

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Trần Thị Nga

“This is an unfair verdict,” he said. “Nga is not guilty as stated by the court.”

The charges against Nga are “bogus”, said New York-based Human Rights Watch.

“The Vietnamese government consistently goes to extremes to silence its critics, targeting activists like Tran Thi Nga with bogus charges that carry a long prison sentence, and subjecting their families to harassment and abuse,” its deputy Asia director, Phil Robertson, said in a statement.

Separately, police on Monday arrested a prominent dissident they have accused of conducting activities aimed at overthrowing the government.

The arrest of Le Dinh Luong, 51, followed his “regular activities with the aim to overthrow the authority and complicate local security,” police in the central province of Nghe An said on their news website, but did not elaborate.

It was not possible to contact Luong and it was not known if he had legal representation.

Nga’s verdict and Luong’s arrest come just a month after a court jailed prominent blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, known as “Me Nam”, or Mother Mushroom, for 10 years for publishing propaganda against the state.

Several dissidents and bloggers voiced support online for both Nga and Luong. With information tightly controlled by the government, some critics take to web blogs to air grievances and social media sites, including Facebook, are hugely popular.

Luong and Quynh had both spoken out against a subsidiary of Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics Corp that caused one of Vietnam’s biggest environmental disasters in April.

Vietnam Court Tries Woman for Posting Anti-State Content

July 25, 2017

HANOI, Vietnam — A Vietnamese court was holding a trial Tuesday of a woman who posted articles and videos online that were described as anti-state propaganda.

The trial of Tran Thi Nga, 40, was expected to last a day, said a court official in the northern province of Ha Nam who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing policy.

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Trần Thị Nga

State media say Nga was arrested in January while she was accessing the internet to post a number of video clips and articles that oppose the state.

Human Rights Watch has called for her immediate release.

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“The Vietnamese government consistently goes to extremes to silence its critics, targeting activists like Tran Thi Nga with bogus charges that carry a long prison sentence, and subjecting their families to harassment and abuse,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement Monday.

On Monday, the Nghe An province police said on its website it had arrested Le Dinh Luong, 51, who “often had acts that aim at overthrowing the people’s government and causing security and public order disturbances” in the central province.

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Le Dinh Luong

Vietnam opened up the country to foreign trade and investment three decades ago and has maintained one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia, but the Communist-ruled government has almost no tolerance to dissent.

International human rights groups and some Western governments often criticize Vietnam for jailing people for peacefully expressing their views, but Hanoi says only law-breakers are punished.

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Lê Đình Lượng: see his story:

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Geneva- Paris, July 21, 2017 – Vietnamese authorities must drop all charges against labour and land rights defender Tran Thi Nga and immediately release her, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (an FIDH-OMCT partnership) and the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) urged today.
Tran Thi Nga’s trial is scheduled for July 25-26, 2017 at the People’s Court in Ha Nam Province. She has been charged under Article 88 of the Criminal Code (“spreading propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam”). If convicted, she could face up to 20 years in jail.“The harassment, arbitrary arrest, and trial of Tran Thi Nga follow a familiar pattern of repression that will inevitably continue unless Hanoi enacts significant institutional and legislative reforms, including the amendment of the country’s numerous repressive laws,” said FIDH President Dimitris Christopoulos.

Tran Thi Nga was arrested on January 21, 2017 at her home in Phu Ly, Ha Nam Province, after the police searched her house and confiscated several of her personal belongings. On the same day, Tran Thi Nga’s partner Luong Dan Ly, a pro-democracy activist and blogger, was also arrested. He was released the following day.

Police accused Tran Thi Nga of using the Internet “to spread some propaganda videos and writings that are against the Government of the Social Republic of Vietnam”.

“We strongly condemn the prosecution of Tran Thi Nga, which illustrates once more the Vietnamese Government’s relentless efforts to intimidate and silence human rights defenders for their legitimate human rights activities. Vietnam must immediately and unconditionally free Tran Thi Nga and all other jailed human rights defenders,” said OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock.

Tran Thi Nga has suffered repeated intimidation, harassment, detention, interrogation, and physical assaults by security agents because of her human rights activities. In May 2014, a group of five men assaulted her with iron rods, breaking her arm and leg. In the days prior to her arrest in January 2017, Tran Thi Nga was subjected to increased police intimidation and harassment, including surveillance of her home and the use of physical force to keep her from leaving her house. Police also refused to allow a neighbour to take her two young sons to the city to buy them food.

“The result of Tran Thi Nga’s trial is a foregone conclusion and it certainly won’t be the last conviction of a human rights defender by Vietnam’s kangaroo courts. Without renewed international pressure, Hanoi’s crackdown on human rights defenders will continue unabated,” said VCHR President Vo Van Ai.

For more information, please contact:
- VCHR: Penelope Faulkner (Vietnamese/English) – Tel: +33 1 45 98 30 85
- FIDH: Andrea Giorgetta (English) – Tel: +66 88 6117722 (Bangkok) / Audrey Couprie & Samuel Hanryon (French/English) – Tel: +33 6 48 05 91 57 (Paris)
- OMCT: Delphine Reculeau (French/English) – Tel: +41 22 809 49 39 (Geneva)

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this program is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

Eight North Korean Defectors in China at Risk of Deportation: Human Rights Watch

April 24, 2017

SEOUL — Eight North Korean defectors in China face involuntary repatriation after being detained by Chinese police last month, the Human Rights Watch group and a pastor who have been assisting them said on Monday.

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North Korea-China border

Human Rights Watch said Chinese government authorities detained the eight North Koreans in mid-March during what appeared to be a random road check in northeastern China.

The detention of North Korean defectors in China comes as U.S. President Donald Trump has pressured China to do more to rein in Pyongyang amid heightened tension over its nuclear and missile programs.

“By now, there are plenty of survivor accounts that reveal (North Korean leader) Kim Jong Un’s administration is routinely persecuting those who are forced back to North Korea after departing illegally, and subjecting them to torture, sexual violence, forced labor – and even worse,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement on Monday.

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Robertson called on China not to deport the would-be defectors.

The United Nations has said China is required under international law not to return defectors to North Korea, where they could face persecution, torture and possibly death.

China says North Korean defectors are illegal migrants who flee their country for economic reasons. North Korea calls them criminals and describes those who try to bring them to South Korea as kidnappers.

The eight North Koreans were in the city of Shenyang, where traffic police stopped their vehicle and took them to a police station because they did not have valid documentation, Human Rights Watch said.

A Christian pastor helping North Korean defectors in China and who asked to be identified by the pseudonym Stephan Kim, said they had sent him a video clip asking U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping for help.

The video shows North Korean defectors waiting inside a vehicle outside a Chinese police station.

“President Trump and Chinese President, please save us. If we go back to North Korea we will be dead, ” said a female North Korean, whose face was blurred for security reasons.

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A man can be seen riding a bicycle on the North Korean side or the China-North Korea border at Dandong in Liaoning. Credit Cancan Chu/Getty Images

Another woman sitting next to her put her hands together and pleaded for help.

Scores of North Koreans attempt to flee their country every year, often first crossing into China and then making their way to Southeast Asia. Some countries in the region have worked with South Korea to send them to South Korea.

About 30,000 have made their way to South Korea, many with the help of South Korean human rights groups, religious organizations or commercial brokers.

(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Paul Tait)

Malaysia: Human Rights Decline Under Najib in 2016 — Is Corruption on the Rise?

January 12, 2017

Government Behind Harsh Crackdown on Critical Speech

From Human Rights Watch

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(Bangkok) – Malaysia’s human rights situation markedly deteriorated in 2016, with increased arrests of government critics, expanded restrictions on peaceful assembly, and continued impunity for police abuses, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2017.

In the 687-page World Report, its 27th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that a new generation of authoritarian populists seeks to overturn the concept of human rights protections, treating rights as an impediment to the majority will. For those who feel left behind by the global economy and increasingly fear violent crime, civil society groups, the media, and the public have key roles to play in reaffirming the values on which rights-respecting democracy has been built.

 

“The Malaysian government has responded to corruption allegations by throwing respect for rights out the window,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “By bringing a slew of prosecutions against those expressing dissenting views or peacefully protesting, the government is seriously undermining democratic institutions and the rights of all Malaysian citizens.”

Pro-democracy group Bersih stages anti-corruption protest, calling for Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to resign, in Kuala Lumpur, November 19, 2016.

Pro-democracy group Bersih stages anti-corruption protest, calling for Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to resign, in Kuala Lumpur, November 19, 2016. © 2016 Edgar Su/Reuters

Throughout 2016, Malaysian authorities used the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) and the Sedition Act to arrest those criticizing the administration of Prime Minister Najib Razak, commenting on the government’s handling of the 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) corruption scandal, or making comments on social media deemed “insulting” to Najib or to Malaysia’s royalty.

The government also used the CMA to suspend newspapers and block websites reporting on the 1MDB scandal, and has repeatedly arrested and prosecuted those involved in peaceful protests. In November, the authorities raided the offices of online news portal Malaysiakini and subsequently charged its chief executive officer, Premesh Chandran, and editor-in-chief, Steven Gan, with violating the CMA by uploading video of a press conference during which a former member of the ruling coalition called for the resignation of the attorney general.

The Malaysian government has also used the draconian Official Secrets Act to shield the Auditor General’s report on the 1MDB scandal – a matter of great public interest in Malaysia – from public view. In November, Rafizi Ramli, the vice president of opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat, was sentenced to 18 months in prison under the act for allegedly disclosing information from that report.

The Malaysian government should step back from its repressive course, bring its laws into line with international standards, and start respecting fully the rights of everyone in Malaysia.

Phil Robertson

Deputy Asia Director

Civil society groups organized under the Bersih (meaning “clean” in Malay language) coalition continued to demand clean and fair elections in 2018 when the next national poll must take place by, and other human rights and governance reforms. These groups mounted a major public rally, Bersih 5, on November 19. The day before the protest, authorities detained Bersih chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah, then detained her under the Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act, a draconian anti-terrorism law that permits detention without charge.

In August, the sweeping National Security Council law came into force, giving the prime minister the authority to declare security areas within which restraints on police power are suspended. Police torture of suspects in custody and excessive use of force remained serious problems, as did lack of accountability for such offenses. More than a thousand people are estimated to be on death row for various crimes and, although the Malaysian government has repeatedly said that it is considering amending the law to charge the mandatory death penalty provisions, it has yet to do so.

More than 150,000 refugees and asylum seekers, the vast majority of whom come from Burma, have no legal status in Malaysia and are unable to work, travel, or enroll in government schools. The lack of status leaves them highly vulnerable to exploitation.

“The downward slide in rights protections that started after the 2013 election accelerated during the past year as the number of tough questions increased about Prime Minister Najib’s alleged involvement in 1MDB scandal,” said Robertson. “The Malaysian government should step back from its repressive course, bring its laws into line with international standards, and start respecting fully the rights of everyone in Malaysia.”

https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/01/12/malaysia-rights-decline-under-najib

Malaysia: Human Rights Watch Urges President Obama To Speak in Support of Human Rights, Problems of Corruption

February 9, 2016

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Former opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is in prison after he was convicted of sodomising his former aide. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, February 9, 2016. US President Barack Obama must urge Malaysian counterpart Datuk Seri Najib Razak to release Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim from prison and drop all politically motivated charges, says a global human rights body ahead of the US-Asean Summit.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Najib’s invitation to the summit, which will be held in the US in five days, had provoked outrage among Malaysian activists.

“Obama should not conduct business as usual at the US-Asean summit with Najib,” said Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in a press release to commemorate the first anniversary of Anwar’s imprisonment.

“It would be a betrayal of the people of Malaysia if Obama does not publicly call for Anwar’s release, and the dismissal of politically motivated charges for sedition and other crimes that so many activists in Malaysia face today.” HRW said Putrajaya should “unconditionally release” Anwar because his incarceration was on “politically motivated charges”. Robertson said confidence in the Malaysian justice system eroded each day the former opposition leader was kept behind bars.

“Anwar’s conviction and imprisonment removed a major political threat to the government of Najib,” said Robertson. HRW said Putrajaya should also ensure the former opposition leader had access to appropriate medical services while imprisoned and that it facilitated necessary overseas travel to treat his ailments.

The Federal Court last year upheld a Court of Appeal verdict that Anwar was guilty of sodomising his aide, Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan, and sentenced him to five years in prison. The US had said it was “deeply disappointed and concerned” by the outcome of the trial. – February 9, 2016.

– See more at: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/no-business-as-usual-with-najib-press-for-anwars-release-obama-told#sthash.V1zy5OL7.dpuf

Is Thailand Really Trying To Improve Human Rights; Eliminated Human Trafficking?

November 7, 2015
Saturday, November 7, 2015
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Major General Paween has the reputation of being an honest cop

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PHUKET: The resignation of a senior human trafficking investigator today is likely to provoke international questioning about whether Thailand intends to end the evil trade in people or cover it up all over again.

Major General Paween Pongsirin said the five-month police probe was wound up and his investigation unit disbanded with more arrests yet to be made and trafficking networks unbroken.

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The main reason he quit today is because acceptance of his new appointment as deputy commander of Yala province in Thailand’s Deep South would expose him to revenge by trafficking network members who are still free.

Scores of arrests have been made since May by Major General Paween’s team – including Army and Navy Officers, police and powerful local politicians.

But Major General Paween said: ”We were only given five months. The job is not finished yet.”

He alleges there are still senior people in uniform who have not been brought to book for their roles in the trade in people that flourished for years through Thailand until May, when the mass graves of Rohingya and Bangladeshis were discovered in secret jungle camps along the Thai-Malaysia border.

Why Thailand’s probe into human trafficking was wound up with the chief investigator insisting arrests still had to be made is a question the Prime Minister and other senior government officials are likely to be asked many times before US State Department officials consider whether to lift the country from Tier 3 of its Trafficking in Persons ranking, the lowest level, next year.

With the disbanding of the trafficking investigation unit, the pregnant wife of one key Rohingya witness against several important suspects has been left to fend for herself without any protection or aid.

Major General Paween said today that ending human trafficking in Thailand was made a priority by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha: ”I worked hard for the benefit of the country and I arrested some military officers and their [alleged] networks.”

Prayuth Chan Ocha. AP photo

Yala is a province where Major General Paween knows traffickers are still free so he has decided to reject his new appointment and resign instead after a long career as a highly-regarded honest policeman.

”This is very sad but I have no choice,” he said. ”My first priority is to protect my life and the lives of my family.”

For years, human trafficking of stateless Rohingya from Myanmar (Burma) and later neighboring Bangladeshis grew into a multi-billion baht industry through Thailand with very few arrests and huge amounts of money changing hands.

Onlookers fear that with so many senior people in the networks still free, the hideous process is likely to resume at any moment – but with greater effort going into covering it up.

Thailand’s grassroots effort to educate local officials and stop human trafficking from now on has not been matched by a desire to expose and arrest all those in uniform who were previously part of the trade in people.

Phil Robertson, Deputy Director, Asia Division, Human Rights Watch, said: ”Thailand’s serious human trafficking problem is further from being solved today with the loss of Major General Paween, who did an exemplary job in investigating the human trafficking gangs involved in perpetuating the misery of the Rohingya, and prosecuting anyone involved, no matter how high their rank or important their connections.

”Transferring efficient and highly committed police in a punitive way, and leaving witnesses unprotected is precisely the way that Thailand elites have historically allowed human rights related prosecutions to unravel.

”The US government and the international community need to be asking some hard questions about this case to those in charge of .

”Will these prosecutions of influential persons in the Rohingya trafficking cases go the same way that so many other trafficking prosecutions have gone in the past – let the accused play for time, look the other way as witnesses are intimidated or bought off, and then throw hands up in the air and look blameless when the prosecution cases implode at the court, allowing traffickers to walk free?

”It’s time for action to be taken now to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Major General Paween, a career-long police officer now aged 57, will leave the force in 30 days unless authorities rescind the Yala appointment or hasten his resignation.

Thousands more Rohingya are expected to take to the sea in search of sanctuary after tomorrow’s national election in Myanmar.

Declaration of Interest

Puketwan journalists Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian have to wait until November 30 for the possibility of a court verdict appeal by the Phuket Prosecutor’s office to end. On September 1 a judge dismissed all criminal defamation and computer crimes charges against the reporters.

The case was brought by the Royal Thai Navy over Rohingya trafficking allegations originally published by Reuters news agency.

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http://phuketwan.com/tourism/trafficking-investigator-quits-amid-questions-thailands-sincerity-nail-guilty-men-23534/

WATCH ‘Shallow Graves,’ from Channel News Asia
How a good cop helped Thailand turned the tables on trafficking, a nightmare that may not yet be over.
http://www.channelnewsasia.com/tv/tvshows/getreal-s14/shallow-graves/2236290.html

WATCH Al Jazeera Investigates – Genocide Agenda
A frightening look at what’s happening in Myanmar (Burma) where documents reveal a plan to exterminate all Rohingya.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrQRYrpp2cI

WATCH the Dateline documentary on Phuketwan
The Dateline documentary team from SBS Australia shared the three-day trial of Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian with participants for a show full of revealing insights.
http://www.sbs.com.au/news/dateline/story/thailands-moment-truth

WATCH Journey into Hell, by Four Corners
From Burma through Thailand, an award-winning current affairs team traces official complicity in the brutal treatment of the Rohingya and Phuketwan’s part in its exposure.
http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2015/06/22/4257490.htm

WATCH How Trafficking Works
Phuketwan Investigative reporter Chutima Sidasathian says of traficking in 2014: ”It’s worse and worse, day by day. Nobody cares”.
http://journeyman.tv/67116/short-films/rohingya-hd.html

LISTEN The Rohingya Solution
A tragedy almost beyond words has been unfolding in Thailand, where a human smuggling network is thriving with the full knowledge of some corrupt law enforcement officers. Alan Morison ofPhuketwan talks to Australia’s AM program.
http://www.abc.net.au/am/content/2015/s4231108.htm

Related here on Peace and Freedom:

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Vietnam frees blogger, US calls for more releases

September 21, 2015

The Associated Press

HANOI — Vietnam has freed a high-profile blogger who has traveled to the United States, which is pressing for more such dissidents to be released.

“We welcome the decision by Vietnamese authorities to release Ta Phong Tan who decided to travel to the United States after her release from prison,” said Terry White, a US Embassy public affairs officer.

Ta Phong Tan

“We remain deeply concerned for all persons imprisoned in Vietnam for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms and call on the government to release unconditionally all these prisoners and allow all Vietnamese to express their political views without fear of retribution,” he said.

Tan, 47, a former policewoman, was arrested in 2011 for writing about human rights and corruption on her blog and sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of spreading anti-state propaganda in a trial that also convicted fellow blogger Nguyen Van Hai, better known as Dieu Cay.

Nguyen Van Hai,

Over the past two years, several high-profile dissidents have been released and sent into exile in the United States, including Dieu Cay, who was released last October. His case had been mentioned by President Barack Obama.

Human Rights Watch welcomed Tan’s release, but said no one should have been jailed for peacefully expressing their views.

“This release continues Vietnam’s cynical practice of releasing high-profile dissidents from prison directly into forced exile, with immediate departure from the country being the price of their freedom,” Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

US officials have said that Vietnam needs to improve its human rights record if it wants to expand economic, trade and military ties with the United States.

Hanoi says that no one is imprisoned in Vietnam for expressing their views, and that only law breakers are punished.

 

Thai junta urged to drop criminal defamation case against journalists — Rights groups complain about Thai government “harassing the media.”

July 16, 2015

By Tim Hume and Kocha Olarn, CNN

Phuketwan journalist Chutima Sidasathian and editor Alan Morison speak to reporters in Phuket, Thailand before appearing in court.

Bangkok (CNN)  Proceedings have ended in the controversial trial of two Thailand-based journalists facing criminal defamation charges for reporting on the alleged involvement of Thai naval forces in human trafficking.

The charges against Alan Morison, the 67-year-old Australian editor of independent Thai news website Phuketwan, and reporter Chutima Sidasathian, a Thai citizen, could earn them seven years in jail — two years on criminal defamation charges and five years for breaching the Computer Crimes Act.

The judge’s verdict in the case, heard in a Phuket court, will be delivered on September 1.

The charges relate to a Phuketwan article published in July 2013.

The story included a 41-word paragraph from a Reuters investigative article alleging that “Thai naval forces” had profited from involvement in the smuggling of ethnic Rohingya from neighboring Myanmar.

No-one from Reuters, which won a Pulitzer Prize for the series of reports on Rohingya that the article featured in, was charged over the original story.

“We are confident,” that the court will vindicate them, Morison told CNN at the end of Thursday’s hearing.

He said the Royal Thai Navy should have responded to the allegations by launching an investigation inside its own organization, rather than pursuing a case against journalists.

‘Threat to democratic society’

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The case has been slammed by press freedom organizations and human rights groups, including the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

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Eight international rights groups signed an open letter to Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha calling on him to drop the charges, claiming that the case constituted a threat to the “bedrock of Thailand’s democratic society.”

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“The fact that these two journalists are even on trial is a scathing indictment of the Thai government’s unwillingness to respect media freedom and clear indicator of how far and fast the environment for free expression has deteriorated under military rule,” Human Rights Watch’s Asia division deputy director Phil Robertson said in a statement.

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Article ‘in public interest’

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Chutima told CNN that she and Morison had testified in court on Wednesday, defending the use of the paragraph that had prompted the charges.

“We explained to them that the term ‘Thai naval forces’ doesn’t mean the Royal Thai Navy, but it means any forces with capability or resources to work in water or at sea,” she said.

An English linguistic expert gave further evidence for the defense in support of their argument, she said Thursday.

A second witness, with expertise on the Computer Crimes Act, also testified in their defense Thursday, arguing that the law was intended to prevent crimes such as hacking or credit card skimming, but had been abused.

Chutima told the court that, in writing the article, she and Morison had been simply doing their jobs and acting in the public interest.

A statement on the website says: “Our reporting on vital matters about Phuket and Thailand will halt for the trial of two journalists on July 14-16 and may not resume. Phuketwan’s future is uncertain because of a highly controversial criminal defamation action.”

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In May, dozens of graves and a number of secret detention camps were found in trafficking hotspots around the Thai-Malaysian border.

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The ensuring Thai crackdown saw trafficking networks abandon their human cargo at sea, leaving thousands of vulnerable migrants on rickety wooden boats ping-ponging between different countries as they attempted to make landfall.

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The crackdown led to dozens of arrests, including of a senior army officer in the region, Lieutenant General Manas Kongpan, on human trafficking charges.

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Thailand’s military junta, which toppled the government of Yingluck Shinawatra in a coup last year, has introduced strict controls on media, amid a clampdown on civil liberties.

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Prayuth has repeatedly griped publicly about journalists, and was slammed for an offhand comment at a press conference in March that he would “probably just execute” any reporters who stepped out of line.

Benjamin Ismail, head of the Asia-Pacific desk for Reporters Without Borders, called on the Thai government “to end their policy of harassing the media.”

“The trial of these two journalists, who just did their job as news providers with a great deal of professionalism, poses a great danger to all those independent voices in Thailand who want to use their freedom of expression and information,” he said in a statement.

http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/15/asia/thailand-phuketwan-defamation-trial/index.html

Related:

United Nations Questions Thailand’s Trial for Journalists Who Reported on Smuggling of Rohingya — Human Rights Issues Raised

July 15, 2015
BANGKOK: The United Nations Human Rights Office for South-East Asia (OHCHR) is highly concerned with the ongoing trials of two Phuketwan journalists for reporting on smuggling ofRohingya and the alleged involvement of the Royal Thai Navy in Southern Thailand.

From 14 to 16 July, Mr. Alan Morison and Ms. Chutima Sidasathian will be standing trial at the Phuket Provincial Court for publishing an article which quoted an investigative report by Reuters on the smuggling of Rohingya asylum seekers. The charges were filed by the Royal Thai Navy.

The article was published in Phuketwan, a small English-language newspaper based in Phuket, on 17 July 2013.

The two journalists face charges of criminal defamation and violation of the Computer Crime Act. If convicted, Mr. Morison and Ms Sidassathian face up to five years in prison.

Phuketwan has been a leading source of information on the plight of Rohingya asylum seekers since 2008.

Police Major General Thatchai Pitaneelaboot (L) listens as a Rohingya trafficking victim leads a police unit to a camp where he was detained in Satun, southern Thailand in this March 27, 2014 file photo.
REUTERS/ANDREW RC MARSHALL/FILES

International human rights standards uphold the right of journalists and others to disseminate information that is of legitimate public interest.

In April 2015, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression raised concern that there have been increasing arrests and prosecutions under the Computer Crime Act and called for an end to criminalisation of dissenting opinions.

As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Thailand has the obligation to uphold the right to freedom of expression (article 19).

Mass graves have been found in camps run by traffickers in Thailand, Malaysia and other nations

The UN Human Rights Committee has outlined that ”[s]tates parties should consider the decriminalisation of defamation” and ”the application of criminal law should only be countenanced in the most serious of cases and imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty”.

OHCHR urges the Thai authorities to drop the charges against the two journalists.

Freedom of the press, including freedom for journalists to operate without fear of reprisals, is essential in promoting transparency and accountability on issues of public interest.

About OHCHR

THE Regional Office for South-East Asia in Bangkok represents the High Commissioner for Human Rights within South East Asia. The High Commissioner for Human Rights is the principal human rights official of the United Nations and heads the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, which spearheads the United Nations’ human rights efforts .

OHCHR website: http://www.ohchr.org

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Statement from Human Rights Watch

Statement attributable to Phil Robertson, Deputy Director, Asia Division, Human Rights Watch on the trial of Phuketwan journalists Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian in Thailand on July 14-16 – in Phuket Provincial Court.

”The fact that these two journalists are even on trial is a scathing indictment of the Thai government’s unwillingness to respect media freedom and clear indicator of how far and fast the environment for free expression has deteriorated under military rule. Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth should have ordered the Navy to stand down and withdraw the charges – but instead he effectively endorsed their effort to gag media critics, and in doing so, administered another body blow to what little remains of Thailand’s international rights reputation. The real message of this trial to Thailand’s journalists is report at your own risk because big brother in Bangkok is watching – but fortunately, when they went after Alan and Chutima, the Navy and the ruling military junta came up against two courageous journalists who are not afraid to fight for their principles. They deserve the international community’s unstinting support. They certainly have Human Rights Watch’s support.”

 

Rohingya migrants
Migrants believed to be Rohingya rest inside a shelter after being rescued from boats at Lhoksukon in Indonesia’s Aceh Province on May 11, 2015.REUTERS/Roni Bintang

Sold for ransom: On the trail of Thailand’s human traffickers

May 22, 2015

From the BBC

As the trade in human beings becomes more and more profitable, the BBC’s Jonathan Head discovers that entire communities in Thailand are helping the traffickers.

Earlier this month, I accompanied a group of Thai volunteers through the steamy mangrove forest of an island on the Andaman coast. They were following up hazy reports of unmarked graves on the island; it was known to have been used by traffickers to hold large groups of migrants while they waited for transport south towards the Malaysian border.

They dug down deep into the waterlogged soil, before the first fragments of bone appeared. Then they pulled at a soggy wet cloth. It was a dress. Inside were the yellowing bones of a woman. Who she was, or how she died, we still do not know. But it is almost certain she was one of the migrants.

She must have endured a gruelling sea journey to reach this desolate spot. Had she lived, the ordeal ahead of her, on her route to a better life in Malaysia, might have been even worse.

The human trade

Rohingya migrants

The migrants found in Takua Pa last October were in deep distress

Last October, I was in almost exactly the same area. We had dashed down from Bangkok on news that a group of migrants had been rescued by officials in the district of Takua Pa. In the community hall we found 81 men in acute distress, weeping and praying.

Rohingya Muslims have been fleeing here from mistreatment in Myanmar for several years – but this time the men were not Rohingyas. They were Bangladeshis. And some of them told us they had been forced on to the boats that transported them here.

District chief Manit Pianthong took us back to where he had found them, in the jungle not far from the site of the woman’s grave. They had been starved and beaten over a period of several days.

Manit told us his district had long been used by human traffickers to transfer migrants from boats to trucks. He wanted to stamp it out. But he was getting little help from the central government, or from local law enforcement.

Volunteers help exhume migrant graves, recovering bones from the forest ground

Volunteers help exhume migrant graves, recovering bones from the forest ground

Over several days, I watched him dealing with angry phone calls from government officials and police, criticising him for talking to the media, and demanding that he send the Bangladeshis to immigration detention centres. It was an open secret that many of the migrants sent there were simply sold back to the traffickers.

Manit used volunteers from his own staff to go out searching for the holding camps. He put a 24-hour checkpoint on the main road route south to stop the truckloads of migrants. He put the word out among fishing communities to alert him if they spotted any boats coming in.

The arrival of growing numbers of Bangladeshis, together with the Rohingyas, showed that the trade in humans was expanding. And no wonder. It was immensely profitable.

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Asia’s migrant crisis
  • Rohingya Muslims mainly live in Myanmar, where they have faced decades of persecution.
  • Rights groups say migrants feel they have “no choice” but to leave, paying people smugglers to help them.
  • The UN estimates more than 120,000 Rohingyas have fled in the past three years.
  • Traffickers usually take the migrants by sea to Thailand then overland to Malaysia.
  • But Thailand recently began cracking down on the migrant routes, meaning traffickers are using sea routes instead.

Why are so many Rohingya stranded at sea?

The perilous journey of a migrant boat that made it

The Indonesian villagers saving migrants

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The business model

The humidity under the rubber trees was suffocating. A young man in a bright orange shirt moved quickly ahead of me, as I puffed uphill. There was no discernible path. Then he stopped and began talking quickly.

Six months earlier he had been living here, he said, with 600 others. He lay down among the fallen leaves and insects to show where they slept, without shelter. They took us to a tent over here, he gestured, and made us phone our parents to demand money. If they could not pay, we were beaten. And over there, he pointed, that is where we saw women being raped. People died, and they sent in trucks to take away the bodies.

This was the business model. The Thai trafficking networks bought the migrants by the boatload. The price for a cargo of 300 people, we were told by several sources including Thai police, was $20,000 (£13,000; €18,000) or more. Then the migrants were held in the jungle until their families paid a ransom, usually $2,000 – $3,000 per person, a huge sum for people usually doing low-end jobs in Malaysia.

Thai migrant

A migrant shows where he slept among the fallen leaves and insects

So how were the traffickers able to conduct this business in the midst of Thai villagers? The camp I saw was just 30 minutes drive from the city of Hat Yai. They involved the local community.

Boy, a young Thai Muslim man from a village near the camp, explained how his community was sucked into the trafficking business. A few years back, he said, he had been out hunting birds when he came across migrants, including children, being beaten in the camp. After that he discreetly started offering shelter to migrants who escaped.

“The whole community is involved”, he said. “It’s because of the money. The traffickers hire everyone. They hire people to keep watch on the camps, to carry food for the Rohingyas. They go round all the houses here, hiring people.” With the price of rubber, their main crop, plunging, it was a tempting alternative.

He told me the young men were also offered drugs as an inducement. So if the migrants escaped – there were no fences – they were likely to be caught, and risk violent punishment by the camp guards.

Thai traffickers map

Official involvement

None of this would have been possible, though, without official connivance. Just how high the involvement went is still unclear. But it must have been very high.

Towards the end of last year, I was given a briefing by a senior police officer who knows a lot about the human trade. He told me of at least one huge camp, right on the border with Malaysia, where 1,000 people could be held.

Why did he not shut it down, I asked. He laughed. “You know the border is a military zone”, he said. “As a police officer I can do nothing there without military approval.”

He had never got that approval. Why did he not go to General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led last year’s coup, and who had pledged to end trafficking? If I try that, he said, the traffickers will be told even before I see him, and they will quickly move the camp. All he could do, he said, was to observe.

Six months later, the first mass grave, containing 26 bodies, was found in the same camp that he had been impotently watching.

Thai volunteers exhume unmarked migrant graves in the forest

Thai volunteers exhume unmarked migrant graves in the forest

It became difficult to work out who was involved, and who was not.

One local police chief told us of his efforts to stop the trade. He offered us the use of his boat to go and look for more. A day later a military unit who had taken us out on patrol with them told us the same police chief was deeply implicated in trafficking.

But then their own commitment suddenly looked uncertain when they refused to land us, as promised, in villages we were passing where migrants were believed to have been hidden.

One officer showed us several sheets of paper detailing his investigations into prominent business figures in Ranong, a province well-known for its trafficking links.

He had names, phone numbers, times of calls, evidence of a well-connected network. This information, he said, had been passed on to the central government. The clear implication was that the government was doing nothing. That officer has now been transferred.

“Look, everybody knew those camps were there,” says Phil Robertson from Human Rights Watch. “It wasn’t just the villagers in the vicinity who were working with the camps and serving as lookouts.”

“These are areas at the Thai-Malaysia border which are militarised. So you had police and military in those areas. There is no way somebody would be able to operate camps of that size without somebody signing off in exchange for a ‘packet'”.

Will it stop?

I stood before a large crowd of Rohingyas, in another local government hall, two days after they had been intercepted. Their guards had been locked up in the police cell next door, and the police chief was questioning them and going through their mobile phones in an effort to find out who their bosses were.

Migrant camp guards locked up in a police cell

Migrant camp guards locked up in a police cell

I had a question for the Rohingyas. How many of them were worried about whether their families could pay the ransoms the brokers would demand? Almost every one of them raised his hand.

“We don’t want to come here”, said Mohammad, a teacher from Rathedaung, in Rakhine State. “We don’t want to leave our motherland. But we don’t have anywhere to escape with our lives. The Myanmar government is so bad. They beat us, they shoot us”.

But Mohammad had little idea what awaited him in the camps, if he escaped, and ended up back in the hands of the traffickers.

Later, many of his group did just that, a military source told us, after they had been transferred to the immigration detention centre in Ranong. Possibly they were sold back to the traffickers, as many had been before them. They were all desperate to reach Malaysia, where there were jobs, families, and hope of a better life.

“We don’t want to leave our motherland,” said Mohammad (right) – a Rohingya migrant

Until their treatment by the Burmese government improves, Rohingyas will continue to flee.

But the Bangladeshis have a choice. Only some of them were forced onto the boats. Most were persuaded to board them, by rosy talk of well-paid jobs. Once they understood the brutal reality of the trade, many of them wanted to go home.

The Thai ransom business had become so lucrative that the traffickers have extended their operations into Bangladesh, where there is already a well-established network of labour brokers. If the networks are broken, the numbers boarding rickety boats will probably fall sharply.

Thai soldiers patrol Ranong

Thai soldiers patrol Ranong
The crackdown

For months we talked to military and police officers who seemed genuine in their wish to stop trafficking. They said they were making progress, but they never seemed to have enough evidence to arrest, or even question, powerful figures in the provinces Ranong, Satun and Songkhla who were believed to be running the business. What seemed to be missing was political will.

It was the discovery of the first mass grave that shocked the government into action.

The many appalling tales of brutalities we had heard, from people held in the camps, were vindicated by the bones exhumed from the damp, tropical soil.

At the time of writing, more than 80 arrest warrants have been issued, and more than 30 people arrested. They include one very prominent businessman from Satun, a few government officials, but so far no military officers. More than 50 police officers have been transferred.

Will this anti-trafficking drive be sustained?

“We believe there are some much more senior people that were involved in making money off these rackets than have come to light so far,” says Phil Robertson. “There is a lot more to be done, a lot more to be uncovered.”

Includes videos:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-32835811

Related:

In the past 10 days, nearly 3,000 boat people from Myanmar and Bangladesh have been rescued or swum to shore in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. Several thousand more are believed to be trapped on boats at sea with little food or water in a crisis sparked by smugglers abandoning their human cargo after a Thai crackdown on long-established human-trafficking routes. Picture: AP Photo/ S. Yulinnas.

A boat with migrants is being towed away from Thailand by a Thai navy vessel, in waters near Koh Lipe island on May 16, 2015. Reuters photo

Thai fishermen (R) give some supplies to migrants on a boat drifting 10 miles off the coast of the southern island of Koh Lipe on Thursday, May 21, 2015. (Reuters)