By: Uamdao Noikorn, Associated Press Writer
(AP) Two foreign journalists facing expulsion from Thailand denied Monday they were a threat to national security, and appealed against an order revoking their visas.
The Immigration Department canceled the visas of American Shawn Crispin and Briton Rodney Tasker on Friday after they wrote a Jan. 10 article claiming there were tensions between the prime minister and the king.
The Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand, a professional journalists association, said it was “deeply shocked and dismayed.”
“Should this deportation be carried out it will result in immeasurable harm to Thailand’s reputation in the world community as a tolerant democracy and haven for free expression,” said an open letter Monday from the club to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Crispin, Bangkok bureau chief of the Hong Kong-based Far Eastern Economic Review magazine, and Tasker, its longtime correspondent, were accused of being a threat to national security and social order.
Tongkramol Chantarat, a lawyer for the U.S.-based Dow Jones & Co., which owns the magazine, appealed the order with the Immigration Department on Monday. He said he applied for an extension of his clients’ visas, citing health reasons. He did not elaborate or say when the government will respond.
In a written statement from Hong Kong, the magazine said it “strongly rejects the charge that any of its reporters or executives are a threat to Thailand’s national security.” Publisher Philip Revzin said, “We strive for fairness and accuracy in all our coverage. We have no agenda but telling the truth.”
Revzin said no one in the Thai government has pointed out factual errors or asked for a correction of the Jan. 10 article.
The article cites a speech in December by King Bhumibol Adulyadej in which he asked Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to be more tolerant of criticism.
Although the king is a constitutional monarch with no role in government, he is held in high regard among Thai people and seldom subject to negative public comment.
It is the first time in decades that Thailand, which has a reputation for press freedom, has taken such harsh measures against foreign journalists. “This tactic is reminiscent of a witch hunt and is an unwarranted attack on free expression,” said a joint statement by the Thai Journalists Association and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance.
Interior Minister Purachai Piemsomboon told reporters that the order to expel the two journalists was not a vindictive move by the government but simply a police matter. “This matter has nothing to do with prime minister’s personal anger over FEER. Please do not speculate that the government has ordered the police to do such kind of thing,” he said.