Govt steps back from fight with FEER

BANGKOK (AFP): The government today demanded that the Hong Kong-based current affairs magazine, the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER), apologize for an article published in January, or face the expulsion of its two Bangkok-based journalists. FEER’s Rodney Tasker and Shawn Crispin have lodged an appeal against deportation orders served at the weekend, after they were named on Friday in an immigration blacklist, for allegedly posing a threat to national security. Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said the government still guaranteed freedom of the press in Thailand, but when reporters infringed on “national security” the nation had to act. But amid mounting internal and external criticism over the government’s move, Surakiart suggested the government may try to find a way to extricate itself from the impasse. “There could be a way to solve the problem, like explaining that they didn’t intend to make a report which damaged the country,” he said in a radio interview. National Police Chief General Sant Sarutanond also demanded that the magazine apologize and that the reporters reveal their sources for the January 10 article which, he said, had damaged “international confidence in Thailand”. “We asked them to explain where they got the information, so that we can take action against the sources and they will be free,” he said late yesterday. FEER rejected the allegations that Crispin and Tasker — or the other two Hong Kong-based employees for the weekly news magazine named on the blacklist — represented a threat to national security. “No one in the Thai government has pointed out any factual inaccuracies, nor asked for a correction of any inaccuracies,” said publisher Philip Rezvin, who is named in the list, along with editor Michael Vatikiotis. Opposition Democrat Party member Akapol Sorasuchart also called on the government to make it clear what offence the journalists had committed. “There has been no clear explanation from the government yet,” he told reporters. Last month, police ordered the edition containing the article to be taken off newsstands, saying it violated press laws. The deportation threats have sparked a rising tide of protest, culminating in a statement from the US State Department, which said its ambassador to Thailand, Darryl Johnson, had raised the matter in a meeting with Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. “We are concerned about the prospect that Thailand may bar certain journalists from working in or entering the country for publishing reports critical of the government,” said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. “We encourage Thailand to uphold its reputation as a strong supporter of freedom of the press consistent with its constitution and its past practices. A free press is an essential element of any democracy.”

Phuket News

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