FEER crackdown: Police tell pair to leave

25 February 2002

Foreign reporters’ ‘contempt’ for laws behind move

Authorities have revoked the visas of two senior Far Eastern Economic Review journalists and the government now appears set to put the pair, and two other FEER staff on an immigration blacklist.

Bangkok bureau chief Shawn W Crispin and Bangkok staff writer Rodney Tasker have received letters informing them that their visas “expired” last Friday as a result of breaching national security, a source said. The two could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The visa revocation seemed to confirm the government’s intention to go ahead with what administration sources said was a plan to “teach the Far Eastern Economic Review a lesson”.

Meanwhile, a Thai police source said the blacklisting was proposed to the Interior Ministry after the Far Eastern Economic Review had ignored warnings and expressed “contempt” for what the regional magazine’s editors called “obsolete” Thai laws.

Interior Minister Purachai Piumsombun could not be reached for comment yesterday, but senior government sources said Purachai would likely endorse the proposed action on grounds that it concerned national security and not press freedom.

“Some people are trying to get the public confused between press freedom and national security, but the government can’t turn a blind eye to what the police say about national security,” said one government source.

The two others from FEER who could be blacklisted are editor Michael Vatikiotis and publisher Philip Revzin.

Crispin and Tasker, who is also president of the Foreign Correspondent Club of Thailand, are understood to still be in Thailand.

The police move came after the magazine refused to correct a brief reference to the relationship between the royal palace and Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in its “Intelligence” column in the January 10 edition.

The police source said Special Branch sent a formal letter to the Far Eastern Economic Review after banning the controversial edition, explaining how such an article infringed on Thai laws and demanded a retraction.

“There was no cooperation from their side,” the source said.

Later, Special Branch representatives participated in a seminar with foreign correspondents and called for prudence in reports on Thailand’s revered institution because internal security law was involved. This warning, the source claimed, was met with contempt from Crispin, who allegedly said the Thai law was obsolete.

“That gave police no choice. When foreigners living and working here don’t respect our laws which may be different from theirs, shouldn’t they be considered a threat to national security?” the source asked. Local and international press watchdogs have sharply criticised the government. Critics said the planned action against the Far Eastern Economic Review was motivated by negative reports on the Thaksin administration and the issue of the reference to the royal palace could be just a pretext.

The controversial “Intelligence” column referred to tension between the prime minister and the palace.

The Thai opposition has joined the United States Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Sans Frontiers and the Thai Journalists Association in decrying the planned blacklisting.

Immigration police chief Hemaraj Thareethai confirmed the matter now was in Purachai’s hands. Purachai is expected to brief the Cabinet on his decision today.

The issue adds to the controversy over Thaksin’s record on press freedom. Last year, he advised local media to publish only positive news about the government and to refrain from reporting on negative issues.

Apart from his control of television station iTV – where reporters critical of his meddling with its coverage were fired – Thaksin has been criticised for his government’s efforts to closely monitor the press and use state public relations agencies to forge news coverage in the government’s favour.

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