Thai court sentences fleeing Myanmar journalists to 7 months on suspension

On 28 May, the public prosecutor filed a case at Chiang Mai Kwaeng Court against 3 journalists of the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) and their 2 crew for illegally entering Thailand. On the same day, the court approved the indictment and sentenced them to 7 months jail term on a 1-year suspension and a 4,000 baht fine each.

The lawyers of the journalist team said that they had confessed and have been taken into the custody of the Immigration Office in Bangkok. The lawyers are negotiating for a release on bail. 

According to the prosecutor’s document used for the indictment, “the defendants and accomplices fled into the kingdom to seek political asylum. At present, human rights organizations and both domestic and foreign media are closely following the situation.”

The lawyers for the journalists said that officials from the Myanmar Consulate in Chiang Mai and Thailand’s Office of the Prime Minister were also in court to observe the case. The court said that the defendants were convicted under Section 11 and Section 81 of the Immigration Act.

Section 11 states “a person entering or exiting the Kingdom shall enter or exit through port of entry, immigration checkpoint, terminal area, station, or locality and at the prescribed times as published in the Government Gazette by the Minister.”

Section 81 states “any alien staying in the Kingdom without permission, or with expired or revoked permission, shall be punished by imprisonment not exceeding two years or a fine not exceeding twenty thousand baht or both.”

The court verdict came after the statement by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tanee Sangrat on May 11 claiming that “Thai authorities concerned are coordinating to find possible humanitarian solution(s) to this case.”

The lawyers for the journalists said that the Thai government should take into consideration not only Thai law, but also international principles to protect people fleeing for their lives.

On 11 May, the case was delayed for 6 days since the lawyers for the Myanmar journalists had not been appointed.

The journalists and crew were arrested on 9 May in San Sai District, Chiang Mai Province. They were taken into custody at the Immigration Bureau. The DVB reporters and crew had escaped prosecution or worse after the Myanmar junta revoked DVB’s license in March for reporting on the anti-coup protests.

As they were arrested in Thailand, many human rights and journalist groups released statements against their possible deportation and called for their immediate release, including Amnesty International, Friends without Borders, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand, and the Thai Media for Democracy Alliance.

Concerned that they might be deported back to Myanmar, on 14 May the legal team requested bail for the journalists and crew with a security of 50,000 baht. Darunee Paisanpanichkul used her academic position as an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Law, Chiangmai University, to request bail. However, the court rejected the request.

According to a release by the Thai Media for Democracy Alliance, 73 Myanmar journalists have been detained, 42 have been prosecuted, 22 faced arrest warrants and were on the run, 6 television stations have lost their licences and 750 people have been killed. A number of the journalists who have been prosecuted and assaulted were DVB reporters.

On 2 March, DVB reporter Kaung Myat Hlaing was attacked at night in his apartment in Myeik as he livestreamed the event. His words were “Help, help. They’re shooting me.” Some suspect that he was detained, but his whereabouts remain unknown.

On 3 March, DVB reporter Min Nyo was arrested in Pyay, Bago Region. DVB released a statement saying that he was beaten by police during his arrest and sustained injuries. On 12 May, Min Nyo “was sentenced to three years in prison under Section 505(a) of Myanmar’s Penal Code” for reporting against the military.

According to Frontier Myanmar, “DVB, a well-known news organisation within Myanmar, started as an exile media outlet during the previous junta, broadcasting uncensored reports on TV and radio. After a 49-year hold on power, the military dictatorship loosened its grip in 2011, and DVB moved into Myanmar the following year.”

Recently, Frontier Myanmar also fell foul of the military junta when their American managing editor Danny Fenster was arrested by the authorities at Yangon airport for unknown reasons as he was leaving the country to visit his family. The US State Department has called for his release and said that they will keep applying pressure until he is allowed to return to his family.

Correction: The court sentenced the journalist and their crew to 7 months in jail on a 1-year suspension. The 1-year suspension part was overlooked in an earlier report. The verdict did not deliver the actual imprisonment. The fine was also 4,000 baht each and not 2,000 each. We apologize for the mistakes.

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