Journalists released

25 01 2011

Further to our post a few days ago, this piece of reasonably sensible news:

Thai authorities have released two photojournalists who had been facing deportation after re-entering the country from neighbouring Myanmar, police said Tuesday.

Belgian Pascal Schatteman and John Sanlin, a Myanmar passport holder, were detained Thursday in the border town of Mae Sot after returning to Thailand from eastern Myanmar, where they reported on clashes between rebels and troops.

“The two journalists were released on Sunday, and they can stay in Thailand until their tourist visas expire,” said Lieutenant Colonel Peuan Duangjina at the immigration office in Tak province, where the men were arrested.

The men’s passports were returned to them Tuesday, he added.

Thailand had initially said they would be deported, drawing criticism from a media rights group as Sanlin faced returning to Myanmar, which is known for giving lengthy prison sentences to reporters working for unofficial media.

Thailand should “take into consideration the prospect that Sanlin will suffer severe reprisals if he is forcibly returned” to his country, said the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).


Further updated: Even more deportations

24 01 2011

The Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) has “sent a letter to the Secretariat of Prime Minister, with a demand to meet with the Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, to discuss the APRRN’s clear concern for the continuing denial of human rights to asylum seekers and refugees, as set out in APRRN’s Statement of Concern dated 20 December 2010 regarding the arrest and indefinite detention of Pakistani asylum seekers and refugees in Bangkok.”

The Network states that 36 of some 85 detainees have already been deported. It states that “this amounts to a violation of the customary international law principle of non-refoulement , requiring that no state shall expel or return an asylum seekers or refugee to a country where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of, in this case, his religion. The conditions of detention also arguably amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, being additional violations of Thailand’s obligations under the Convention Against Torture, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

This approach of deportation and forced repatriation is now standard practice for this government.

Update 1: More on deportations here, identifying Rohinga.

Update 2: CNN has more on the new arrivals of Rohinga.

Adding journalists to the sorry list of deportees

22 01 2011

In an AFP story at the Straits Times, it is reported that Thai authorities have “confirmed plans to deport two photojournalists arrested after re-entering the country from neighbouring Myanmar, despite criticism from a media rights group.” Belgian Pascal Schatterman will be sent back to his home country and John Sanlin, a Burmese passport holder, will be sent back to Burma.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has issued this statement:

The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned about the charges and threatened deportation of Thailand-based freelance photojournalists John Sanlin, a Burmese passport holder, and Pascal Schatterman, a Belgian national.

“We call on Thai authorities to reconsider the deportation of journalists John Sanlin and Pascal Schatterman and take into consideration the prospect that Sanlin will suffer severe reprisals if he is forcibly returned to Burma,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Thailand has long been a safe haven for exiled journalists to report freely on Burma. CPJ encourages the Thai government to maintain that important press freedom role for the region.”

Both reporters were arrested by Thai authorities at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday in the Thai border town of Mae Sot after re-entering the country from Burma, where they were covering the escalating armed conflict between Burmese government troops and ethnic Karen insurgents.

Authorities confiscated their video footage, including images of internally displaced people suffering from severe deprivation in the remote conflict zone, according to CPJ sources. Today, a Thai court sentenced Sanlin and Schatterman to one-year terms, imposed nominal fines of 500 baht (about US$16), and ruled they could remain in the country because they had no previous immigration offenses.

But after immigration police conferred with the presiding judge, the two journalists were taken back into custody at the courthouse and told they would be deported to their respective countries in the next day or two, according to CPJ sources. The two reporters are expected to be transported on Saturday to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, where they are scheduled to be deported.

Sanlin, who has previously provided video footage to Al-Jazeera and France 24, told CPJ he fears that he will suffer reprisals for his journalism if he is deported to Burma. He said he holds a student visa for Thailand, which is valid through March.

Sanlin was on the front-lines of Thailand’s armed street clashes last year and provided exclusive video footage aired by France 24 of an April 10 grenade attack that killed and severely injured several Thai soldiers.

Military-ruled Burma is the world’s fourth worst jailer of journalists, with at least 13 journalists in prison.

The current Abhisit Vejjajiva administration has been keen to develop good relations with the Burmese military-backed regime – a case of like attracting like perhaps? – and has been busy forcibly repatriating Burmese fleeing the fighting across the border.

Sending back Sanlin means that he is certain to face jail and possibly worse. That probably doesn’t bother the Abhisit government, which is complicit in human rights abuses across borders.

The Nation reports that the charges are that the journalists “re-entered Thailand after illegally crossing into neighbouring Burma.” For violating immigration law, they received a paltry 500 baht fine. What comes next, especially for Sanlin, has far wider and potentially disastrous consequences.

With 3 updates: ABC on Thailand, Burma and pushing back Burmese

10 11 2010

The Australian ABC has a report on its World Today program that states, amongst other things this:

Thai authorities have now forced most of those people back across the border into Burma. Our Southeast Asia correspondent Zoe Daniel is in the border region and joins us there now. Zoe, why did the Thais moved so quickly to push these Burmese people back?

ZOE DANIEL: Look I think Thailand’s preparing for a long period of to-ing and fro-ing from people out of Burma. I think there’s a real expectation that this border conflict could escalate and could last for a long period of time.

There’ve been various predictions of escalating conflict between ethnic groups in the Burmese military after the election and that’s what we’ve been seeing in the last couple of days and I think that Thailand’s view is that when it’s safe for people to go back they should go back. But there is an expectation that they may return to Thailand if there’s a further upsurge in fighting.

So I think what we could see if a revolving door of refugees crossing back and forth over the border as these skirmishes take place.

Also Thailand’s got lots of problems of its own politically at the moment but in a more immediate sense it’s just had the worst flooding in 50 years and it has its own displaced people to deal with, which is obviously a costly and logistical matter for Thailand to deal with. So they just can’t cope with any more.

ELEANOR HALL: Were the Burmese people as convinced as the Thais that it was safe to go back across the border?

ZOE DANIEL: No they weren’t. Many of those people in the refugee camp here at Mae Sot had only been there for say 12 hours, they’d crossed over the border overnight and then in the afternoon yesterday they were told, okay it’s safe to go back now….

There was a lot of fear in the refugee camp when announcement were made that is was time to go back and certainly a great deal of uncertainty about whether fighting is over and a general expectation that it isn’t.

Being sent back (The Nation)

The Thai mainstream media has a slightly different style for reporting this, not being always willing to report that the military forced people to go back. Of course, this has been standard practice by the military under the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime, with forced deportations of Hmong and Rohinga over the past couple of years. But all the Bangkok Post cover story says is: “Third Army deputy commander Sonthisak Witthaya-aneknand said the Burmese who sought refuge at the 346th Border Patrol Police unit in Mae Sot went home when it was confirmed that fighting in Myawaddy had ended. They could cross the border to Thailand again if the fighting resum[e]s, Maj-Gen Sonthisak said.”

At least The Nation states: “Thai officials began to return thousands of refugees yesterday who fled to Mae Sot on Monday after a state of quiet returned in the Burmese border town of Myawaddy.” It adds: “Armed forces commander-in-chief General Songkitti Jaggabatara said Thailand would not open any more refugee camps for Burmese who fled from conflict at home.” He added:  “We have a clear policy to provide only humanitarian assistance for them in a short period, and would send them back as soon as the situation returns to normal…”. Concluding, he said: “Thailand would not intervene in the domestic affairs of its neighbours and would not allow any armed groups to take shelter on its soil…”.

What is emerging is yet another example of the Abhisit regime, led by the military, developing foreign policy that sees the regime aligning itself with other authoritarian regimes in the region. Humanitarian concerns are out the window for authoritarian Thailand.

Update 1: As yet one more example of how Abhisit says one thing while is regime’s police and military do something else, see this report. PPT believes that Abhisit has done this so many times that it is clear that his task is to run interference for the regime internationally, with words about being humanitarian and respecting human rights, when he is heading a government that does nothing of the sort. He should be ashamed.

Update 2: The Bangkok Post has an ever so slightly different tune in this article in a report from another border area. It remains unable to criticize the military and the government in any clear way. This is the best it can do: “Thai authorities unexpectedly decided last night they would have to return to their homes…. Despite the reluctance of the refugees to go home, Sangkhla Buri district chief Chamras Kongnoi insisted Thailand had made its decision to return them based on confirmation by the Burmese army that the situation had returned to normal.” Yes, that’s right, the “Thai authorities – and PPT assumes that includes Abhisit and Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya – believe the Burmese military. And then this: “Local authorities said the decision was based on national security concerns as the army did not want the refugees to settle in and try to stay long-term.” It is pretty clear that repatriation is a national policy and that Abhisit and Kasit, for all the former’s claims about human rights and humanitarianism, are risking people’s lives.

Update 3: It gets worse. The Bangkok Post has an editorial which trumpets Thailand’s record on refugees/people of concern. It says: “Despite the country’s preoccupation with rebuilding efforts at home, it is commendable that the government has allowed in the Burmese, many of them children and the elderly, who desperately need shelter from the armed clashes within Burma.” It then adds: “One thing that the government has to seriously bear in mind is that no refugee can be forcibly ordered to leave the kingdom. A plan to send them back must come with the assurance that Burma is safe enough for their return. Anything short of this would damage Thailand’s proud reputation as a safe haven for those fleeing terror and tyranny in their homelands.”

What is going on here? The Abhisit government has forcibly repatriated people several times. Are the editorial writers dazed, dumb or dim-witted? The government and military has forcibly repatriated people in the past 24 hours. Is this the best the Post can do? Would the same moderate and supportive tone have greeted a Thaksin government doing this? We doubt it. It is double standards or it is self-censorship. Maybe it is both.

Alleged abuse of migrants deported from Thailand

25 10 2010

PPT draws readers’ attention to further information on policies fostered by the Abhisit Vejjajiva government that are detrimental to Burmese migrants and involve their deportation. Readers will remember our earlier posts on Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya and his statements here and here.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)has this press release from The State Enterprise Workers Relations Confederation (SERC), the Thai Labour Solidarity Committee (TLSC) and the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF). In the press release these organizations urge the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to “instruct related UN agencies to urgently investigate allegations of abuse committed against migrants deported from Thailand to Myanmar.” It begins:

THREE rights groups in Thailand have today called on Ban Ki-moon, the United Nation’s (UN) Secretary General, to intervene to prevent further abuse of Myanmar migrants deported from Thailand. The UN Secretary General will visit Bangkok on Tuesday as a guest of the Royal Thai Government (RTG).

The State Enterprise Workers Relations Confederation (SERC), the Thai Labour Solidarity Committee (TLSC) and the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF) call upon the UN Secretary General to instruct related UN agencies to urgently investigate allegations of abuse committed against migrants deported from Thailand to Myanmar. The UN Secretary General should also press the RTG to ensure increased respect for migrant’s human rights and to allow UN experts to visit Thailand to assist in development of future migration policies.

SERC, TLSC and HRDF also today called upon the RTG, in advance of the UN Secretary General’s visit, to ensure transparent investigations into all migrant deportation abuse claims and punish those involved. The RTG should also urgently reconsider its migration policies more generally to ensure respect for migrant’s human rights.

Human rights violations against migrants deported from Thailand to Myanmar continue to be reported. Al-Jazeera reported how migrants deported to Myanmar are being sent to camps controlled by the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) where they must pay for their release before being smuggled or trafficked back to Thailand. The South China Morning Post (SCMP) revealed migrants are being sold to traffickers during deportations in waters between Southern Thailand and Kawthuang (Myanmar) and then returned to Thailand. Rights groups have demanded investigations into these allegations since July 2010 but no response has been evident and the abuses continue.

Read the report as it is revealing of state policies fostered under Foreign Minister Kasit.

Political prisoners fear deportation

20 10 2010

The Irrawaddy has a report that refers to the former Burmese political prisoners now in Thailand who fear deportation. As the report states, “Although many former [Burmese] political prisoners come to Thailand with high hopes of a better life and freedom in a new country, their dreams are often shattered. In this area [Mae Sot], more than 120 former political prisoners are unrecognized by the United Nations as refugees, and they live in fear of arrest and repatriation by Thai authorities.”

A “campaign [was] recently launched to try and bring attention to the plight of unrecognized political prisoners…”. One activist claims: “We asked the UN why we cannot be registered, and they said it is out of their hands, only Thailand decides that. So we are left in limbo, concerned about our future, and our families’ future.” That worries many of them.

Because of their lack of status, many of these unrecognized political prisoners “say it sometime feels like prison here because they are always worried about being arrested.” With the Burmese military’s “election” taking place in a few weeks, and no doubt because Thailand’s Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya’s recent statements about sending Burmese back across the border, “many political former prisoners are concerned that Thai authorities will repatriate them, and they are preparing for the worst.”

One political prisoner claimed: “I will commit suicide before being sent back…. If we are sent back, the regime will take away our lives. We will have no future.”

There are some 2,200 political prisoners now in Burmese prisons. With support from the Abhisit Vejjajiva government to the military regime in Burma, many are concerned that this number will increase.

FIDH Statement on Migrant Workers in Thailand

10 03 2010
PPT has blogged multiple times recently about the particular ways in which migrant workers from Burma are being targeted and persecuted in Thailand. In this spirit, we share the following press release with you — from the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

Press release

Thailand/Migrants’ Rights

Migrants in Thailand Facing Detention and Imminent Deportation

Paris-Bangkok, March 10, 2010 – The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) expresses its deep concern regarding recent reports of detention and forced deportation of a large number of migrant workers, especially along the Thai-Burma border.

According to information received, there has been a sudden increase in the arrest, detention and deportation of Burmese migrant workers since March 5 in the Thai-Burma border town of Mae Sot.

In January 2010, the Thai Cabinet adopted a resolution allowing for a 2-year extension of migrant work permits provided migrants participate in the process of Nationality Verification, requiring them to submit biographical information to their home government before February 28 or face deportation. The scheme does not apply to irregular migrants. This resolution affects the safety and livelihood of over 1.3 million migrants who hold work permits and places a million others, who are undocumented, under threat of immediate deportation.

Many registered Burmese migrants are unable or unwilling to submit biographical information to the Burmese authorities because they fear for their own safety and that of their family members in Burma. In addition, the period is too short and the procedures too complex for migrants to comply. Even for those who may wish to avail themselves to this process, the cost of traveling back to Burma may be prohibitive for most migrants who earn meager wages.

FIDH believes that such drastic measures are not conducive to the objective of facilitating opportunities for migrant workers to work legally. FIDH is concerned that on the contrary, such measures risk driving more migrant workers underground, making them even more vulnerable to exploitation by employers.  In addition, such deportations may in some cases violate the principle of non-refoulement.

FIDH notes with disappointment that the Thai authorities have not responded to calls of restraint by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, who expressed his concern that “the scheme is only applicable to regular migrants who submit registration before February 28 and does not include irregular migrants,” and that it “does not offer options for protecting the human rights of migrants who have not or will not avail themselves of this process.”

FIDH calls on the Royal Thai Government to suspend immediately the application of the resolution, to cease all acts or threats of detention and deportation and formulate a rights-based policy to address the on-going plight of undocumented migrant workers in Thailand. FIDH also urges the Thai government to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families which provides a framework for developing such policies in ways which ensure respect of human rights.

We urge the government to reform the process with a view to developing a more realistic, reasonable time frame, as well as less burdensome procedures,  and to assisting migrants to fully understand, gain confidence, and participate in the process without putting them at risks of human rights violations either in Thailand or in their country of origin,” said Souhayr Belhassen, President of FIDH.

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