BANGKOK (AP) — Rights organizations and reporters’ groups urged Thai authorities on Tuesday not to repatriate three journalists who fled to Thailand from military-run Myanmar, saying they would face arrest and possible physical harm.
The journalists work for the Democratic Voice of Burma, or DVB, an online and broadcast news agency, its executive director and chief editor, Aye Chan Naing, said Monday. Burma is the former name for Myanmar and is still used by some opponents of military rule.
He said the three, along with two activists, were arrested Sunday in the northern province of Chiang Mai during a random search by police. They were charged with illegal entry into Thailand.
All five pleaded not guilty Tuesday in a Chiang Mai court.
“Thai authorities should uphold the country’s proud history as a sanctuary for journalists fleeing military repression in Myanmar, and on humanitarian grounds should not deport three Democratic Voice of Burma journalists recently arrested for alleged illegal entry,” said Shawn Crispin, senior Southeast Asia representative of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
“Myanmar’s military regime has repeatedly abused and detained journalists, and Thai authorities should not force these members of the press to face potentially severe retaliation for their work,” Crispin said in a statement.
Amnesty International said the detainees could be subject to physical harm if returned to Myanmar.
“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 Ming Yu Hah, the group’s deputy regional director for campaigns. “For years DVB has been a leading, outspoken outlet holding the authorities to account. If returned to Myanmar, these journalists will be at exceptionally grave risk.‘
Thai Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tanee Sangrat said in a text message that “Thai authorities concerned are coordinating to find possible humanitarian solution(s) to this case.” He did not elaborate.
Myanmar’s military has sharply curtailed press freedoms since ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February. DVB and several other news organizations were told they were not allowed to operate on any platform, and about 80 journalists were arrested. About half remain in custody.
Most of those still jailed are being held on a provision in the Penal Code that prohibits comments that “cause fear,” spread “false news, (or) agitates directly or indirectly a criminal offense against a Government employee.” Violations are punishable by up to three years in prison. Many news media and personnel continue to work despite the bans and threats.
Monday’s statement from DVB’s chief editor said it “strongly urges the Thai authorities to not deport (the journalists) back to Burma, as their life will be in serious danger if they were to return.”
“They have been covering the demonstrations in Burma until March 8 — the day the military authority revoked DVB’s TV license and banned DVB from doing any kind of media work.”
The statement also appealed to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to intervene to protect the journalists’ safety, and for the international community to ask the Thai government not to deport them.