The Chiang Mai Provincial Court has postponed the trial of 3 journalists and 2 associates of the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) who were arrested for illegal entry. Civil society has raised concerns over their wellbeing if they are deported.
The DVB TV channel logo.
Human rights lawyer Sumitchai Hattasan told Prachatai that the court decided to postpone the trial because the suspects expressed a need for legal representation. The police temporarily detained them at a police station until lawyers are appointed.
The five were arrested in San Sai District, Chiang Mai Province, on 9 May when the Mu 3 village head reported to the authorities suspicious people who cannot speak Thai residing in a rental house, according to the local news agency CM108.
The five admitted to the authorities that they had crossed the border from Myanmar. The authorities also found identity cards, passports and equipment used for broadcasts.
According to a statement from DVB’s Editor-in-Chief, Aye Chan Naing, cited by Amnesty International, three senior DVB journalists and two activists were arrested by Thai police on Sunday 9 May. They had been reporting on the anti-coup protests in Myanmar until 8 March, the day the military authorities revoked DVB’s TV license. Amnesty International has confirmed that the five are currently in police custody.
They were charged under the 1979 Immigration Act, which empowers the authorities to deport individuals who have entered the country illegally, or impose a 2 year prison sentence and/or a 20,000 baht fine.
Fear of reprisal if deported
Media practitioners in Myanmar have had a difficult time since the coup on 1 February 2021 when the military ousted the government led by the National League of Democracy party. An uprising against the coup has been met by lethal violence, heavy surveillance and media censorship.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners , almost 5,000 people have been arrested by the junta. As of 3 May, this included 84 journalists of whom 50 are currently detained and 2 are on bail awaiting trial. 25 have been prosecuted and 29 are on the run with outstanding arrest warrants.
According to a statement from the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT), Myanmar’s military junta, the State Administration Council (SAC), revoked the license of DVB to operate in the country along with four other media organizations, making reporting for the network an illegal act. These journalists continued to do their job, making them targets for the SAC.
The FCCT urged the Thai authorities to release the five from detention, urgently offer them protection, and grant the right to remain temporarily in Thailand to those fleeing the brutal crackdown on independent media and civil society.
Brad Adams, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, said Thailand should not deport DVB journalists and activists back into harm’s way in Myanmar. He also urged the Thai authorities to allow the UNHCR to provide them protection.
“The junta’s hostile actions towards DVB were made clear when it revoked the DVB’s media license in March. Just last week, the junta criminalized ownership of satellite dishes, in part to prevent DVB’s satellite broadcasts from reaching the Burmese people.
“The Thai government should immediately release these five journalists and activists, allow UNHCR access to provide them with protection, and ensure they can remain temporarily in Thailand.”
Amnesty International published a statement opposing the refoulement of the five. Non-refoulement is an international legal principle that prohibits the transfer of individuals to another country or jurisdiction where they would face a real risk of serious human rights violations or abuses.
“It is imperative that the Thai authorities do not forcibly return these individuals to Myanmar. To do so would place them at real risk of arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and other ill-treatment, and death”, said Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns, Ming Yu Hah.
“It would also put Thailand in breach of its obligations under the principle of non-refoulement under international law.
“There have long been credible reports of torture and other ill-treatment in detention in Myanmar. These have intensified since the coup. Several people detained in recent weeks have died in detention in unexplained circumstances.”