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Rights group slams Thai prosecution of journalists over boat people

A rights group on Friday called on the Thai prime minister to intervene on behalf of two journalists facing possible defamation charges for reporting allegations of abuses of migrants by the navy.

The Phuketwan online newspaper on July 17 published a story, citing an international news agency, alleging some navy officials cooperated with human traffickers of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar for profit.

The Thai navy has filed a case against Australian national Alan Morison and Thai national Chutima Sidasathian, of the newspaper, who are summoned to appear at the public prosecution office in Phuket,700 kilometres south-west of Bangkok, on Monday, to face charges.

"Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra should order prosecutors to end the case against the Phuketwan journalists and instead investigate serious abuses against Rohingya boat people," said Brad Adams, Asia director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

"The Thai navy’s heavy-handed response to news reports of mistreatment of migrants shows a startling disregard for rights abuses," Adams said.

A government official said it was unlikely Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra would intervene.

"Under the current circumstances it would be politically dangerous for Yingluck to get involved in the case," said the senior official, who asked to remain anonymous.

Amid protests calling for her resignation for four months, Yingluck appears keen keep the politically powerful military establishment neutral.

The military has staged 18 coups in the past eight decades.

If found guilty, Morison and Chutima could be imprisoned for up to two years.


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