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Thailand 4 March 2002

Two foreign journalists placed on government blacklist

Update: On 4 March, the weekly Far Eastern Economic Review finally apologized for publishing on 10 January 2002 an article considered offensive by Thai authorities, who reacted by revoking the visas of two journalists based in Bangkok. The magazine’s lawyer presented a letter of apology, signed by Michael Vatikiotis, editor in chief, to the president of the National Assembly, Uthai Pimchaichon. According to the Immigration Police spokesperson, the committee examining the appeal to the expulsion order against the journalists is to meet on 4 March and will make a decision "that will take this letter of apology into account". On 1 March, a Thai police official said that his offices were examining the content of the latest issue of the British magazine The Economist which included a special report on Thailand, and which focused on the monarchy. This magazine, normally on sale at newsagents on Friday, had not yet been distributed.

In a letter to Interior Minister Purachai Piumsombun, RSF protested the government’s placement of Shawn W. Crispin and Rodney Tasker, Bangkok bureau chief and journalist from the financial magazine Far Eastern Economic Review, respectively, on a blacklist of foreigners who are barred from entering Thailand. "We condemn this measure, which is prejudicial to press freedom and unworthy of a democracy," stated Robert Ménard, the organisation’s secretary-general. RSF asked the minister to see to it that both the journalists’ names, as well as those of two other employees from the magazine, are removed from the Ministry of Immigration’s blacklist of forty-six foreigners.

According to information obtained by RSF, on 21 February 2002, Lieutenant General Hemaraj Thareethai, who is the Ministry of Immigration’s police chief, confimed the existence of a blacklist, comprised of forty-six foreigners who are considered "undesirables" in Thailand and consequently risk expulsion. The list is to be submitted to the interior minister for his approval. The names of American journalist Crispin and British journalist Tasker, both of whom work for the "Far Eastern Economic Review", are included on the blacklist. Also included are the names of the magazine’s publication director and an editor-in-chief who works at the magazine’s Hong Kong headquarters. Thirteen members of the Chinese spiritual movement Falungong are also included on the blacklist.

The "Far Eastern Economic Review" has recently been targeted by the Thai authorities. On 7 January, General Tritot Ronnarittivichai, who oversees the distribution of publications, issued an order banning the 10 January issue of the "Far Eastern Economic Review". He also ordered the seizure of all copies of the issue. According to the general, the issue in question included an article that was likely to disturb public order and "affect public morality". As such, it violated the Publishing Act of 1941. On 5 January, the Thai airline Thai International PLC barred the magazine’s distribution on all its flights. On 7 January, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra announced that lawyers would study the magazine’s articles in order to determine whether "defamation" charges should be filed against it. The prime minister was especially disturbed by an article titled "Listless Days", which reported on relations between both heads of the Thai executive branch. The prime minister expressed the belief that foreign publications were

attacking the Thai government because of his refusal to privatise state companies in order to sell them at a reduced price on the international market. In the incriminating article, the "Far Eastern Economic Review" discussed relations between the king and the prime minister. This followed a December speech by the king in which he severely criticised Thaksin.

On 10 January, the radio programme "Lok Yam Chao" (World Morning), a daily political talk-show, was banned after its host read passages from a controversial "Far Eastern Economic Review" article. The programme has been broadcast on the FM dial for twenty years. It is broadcast on a network owned by the Ministry of Public Relations. According to the talk-show’s host, Somkiat, the programme was reportedly banned by government order.

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