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).


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.

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