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HRW calls for probe into Thai navy ‘trafficking’

Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar (file photo)
 March 07, 2014 

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged Thailand’s authorities to look into its navy’s alleged role in the trafficking of Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar instead of charging journalists for reporting on the subject.

The Phuketwan online newspaper published a story last July, citing a report by the Reuters news agency, which said some navy officials “work systematically with smugglers” of Rohingya refugees for profit.

The Thai navy filed a case against Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian of the newspaper, who are told to report to the Phuket provincial public prosecution office on March 10 when they might be formally charged for criminal defamation and violation of Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act.

The rights group said the navy “should cease its efforts to silence the journalists and instead permit civilian authorities to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into alleged trafficking and other serious mistreatment of Rohingya ‘boatpeople’ by navy personnel.”

“The Thai navy’s heavy-handed response to news reports of mistreatment of migrants shows a startling disregard for rights abuses,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director.

He further said that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra should order prosecutors to end the case against the two journalists and instead investigate abuses against Rohingya refugees.
If convicted for criminal defamation, Morison and Sidasathian could be put behind bars for up to two years. Under the Computer Crimes Act, each faces a maximum of five years in jail and a fine of 100,000 baht ($3,100).

Myanmar’s government refuses to recognize Rohingya Muslims as citizens and labels them as “illegal” immigrants.

They have faced torture, neglect, and repression in Myanmar since it achieved independence in 1948.

Hundreds of Rohingya Muslims are believed to have been killed and thousands displaced in attacks by the Buddhist extremists. The assaults have been mainly carried out in the western state of Rakhine.