Journalists facing jail in Thailand need more help from Canberra, says human rights group

The Federal Government is urged to redouble its efforts to help an Australian journalist and his colleague facing charges of criminal defamation and computer crimes in Thailand.

“Just as in the case of Peter Greste in Egypt we have a case of a harsh crackdown on the media,” said the president of Liberty Victoria, George Georgiou SC. “In Egypt Greste was reporting on unrest inside the country. In Thailand the story has been on human rights abuses against ethnic Rohingya migrants.”

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop raised the case on a visit to Thailand in May and Australian diplomats have been reported as taking a firm stand.

The editor of the tiny news website, Alan Morison, and journalist Chituma Sidasathian are due to go on trial on July 14, more than 18 months after charges were laid by a Thai navy official. They arose from a 2013 report on the independent site, incorporating one sentence from a Pulitzer Prize-winning Reuters news agency special investigation incriminating several Thai naval officers in the trafficking of Rohingya migrants. Reuters has not been charged and the Thai naval forces deny any trafficking.

The refugees flee ethnic cleansing in Burma for the Phuket coast. As well, many bodies have recently been found buried in makeshift camps inside Thailand.

“This is a large-scale human tragedy requiring the help of Australia as a friendly neighbour,” Mr Georgiou said. “This news site is one of the few agencies pursuing the story of the Rohingya, whose treatment has become an urgent international concern. Prosecuting journalists serves little purpose other than to strengthen the military junta’s control of the media.”

The journalists face up to seven years in prison. Although the charges were laid by the previous civilian government they have been maintained by the military after taking power in a coup in May last year.