Two fine journalists spent an unnecessary five hours behind bars today after being charged with defaming the Royal Thai Navy.
Alan Morison, 66, Australian and Chutima Sidasathian,33, Thai of Phuketwan were held in custody in the cell below the court in Phuket, while court officials sorted out bail.
They chose to be treated like any other prisoner. It was a quick way to learn that Thailand, which is bordering close on being a failed state, does not believe in the presumption of innocence, er, and, dare I say it, democracy.
Their crime is one of the most unlikely in the annals of libel history. They are alleged to have defamed the Royal Thai Navy in relation to the treatment of Rohingyas.
This is the very Navy which shot itself in the foot having taken film used by CNN of one of its crews pushing out Rohingya boats into the open sea to an uncertain fate.
It’s difficult to libel an object in the west. An object – the Navy – does not have a soul or feelings.
Had a similar story appeared in Britain in say the local paper the ‘Ilford Recorder’ who published an inaccurate Reuters report – the judiciary would surely have gone after Reuters.
But first they would have had to ask: ‘Who is offended?’ And if the British Royal Navy is offended how does one determine the damage done?
The Royal Navy is not a trading company. It may have lost face when it lost the Prince of Wales off Malaysia in World War 11 – but it more than made up for it later.
Did the British forces sue after being called cowards for surrendering to the Japanese at Singapore?
No. You win some you lose some and military institutions must come under public scrutiny.
Some say the Thai Armed forces have got away with murder in the last decade. So have they been charged?
And have they taken the people who accused them of murder, say at Tak Bai of Kru se, to court for libel.
No of course not. It’s the people, the soldiers, sailors and officers, who have to be charged not the institutions.
So we have to ask both Government supporters and Anti-Government supporters where is the democracy you have been baying about for all this time? Was it all piffle?
What have Democratic Party leaders or Pheu Thai leaders have to say about the hounding of Morison and Sidasathian? How can believe we what you say?
And if this all comes about face – will these people be recompensed? No, not a hope of that.
Of course the government, political parties, and democracy lovers of Thailand, are not alone.
How can we criticise from the west, when one our own institutions, Reuters news service, who gained a journalist Oscar – a Pulitzer Prize – at least partially off the back of these two remarkable people, still remain so silent.
So Jason Szep and Andrew Marshall of Reuters. Forget for a minute about the corporate image of your agency. If you do not speak out for Morison and Sidasathian perhaps you should send your award back in a paper bag.
And Jason, no need for the shrinking violet stuff. Pulitzer Awards are for people who write for the American Press. You have to put in for these awards and pay your fifty bucks.
NB: Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian were bailed in the sum of 100,000 baht each and the case was adjourned for five weeks. The bail was not paid by themselves. It was put up by the Andaman Law Centre, based in Trang.