As an Australian journalist ordered to appear at a police station recently on spurious criminal defamation charges brought by the Royal Thai Navy, I hoped for comfort from my elected leaders.
At our small Phuket-based news outlet, Phuketwan, we’d been writing about the Rohingya boat people since 2008 and had even picked us a couple of regional awards for investigative journalism and excellence in human rights reporting. The Muslim Rohingya, fleeing ethnic cleansing in Burma, are believed to be among the most deprived people anywhere.
In response to our reporting on their treatment, the Royal Thai Navy is using a couple of the most onerous laws in Thailand to sue me and a colleague, Chutima Sidasathian. We face a maximum of seven years in jail, for no good reason.
The issue could have been settled, as it probably would be in Australia, with a telephone call. Instead, sued by the military, we are likely soon to face going to jail for the principle of media freedom.
Over the next week or so, support poured in from around the world. Human Rights Watch weighed the issue as being extremely important. So did Europe-based Reporters Without Borders. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said some fine things.
The United Nations Human rights chief offered support. Smaller outfits joined in. National newspapers in Thailand, including The Bangkok Post and The Nation, added their indignant voices.
I made a plea via the Australian Embassy for help from Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, but heard nothing. No word in defence of the media’s role in democracy. Not a single sentence urging Thailand to do what any good government should do and withdraw the laughable charges.
Now I know what I should have done: I should have sent Bishop a cheque. All she cares about, it seems, is the money.
While assisting Greenpeace activist Colin Russell in Russia, where he was being held in custody when he could so easily have been bailed, Bishop’s time clock was apparently just ticking up the cost. Fairfax Media reports that Bishop thinks that Australians who get into trouble overseas could become another source of revenue for prosperous Australia’s coffers.
What happened to the principle of governing for all in a democracy, not just for the so-called ”winners” but for the downtrodden and deprived as well? How quickly traffickers and boatpeople would be discouraged once the truth of the Australian system of government becomes known: it’s all about the money.
It cannot be long before someone calculates that instead of would-be refugees paying human traffickers to attempt to reach Australia by boat, the Australian government can undermine the whole notion of being seen as heartless by charging a fee instead. Would-be refugees could simply bid at auction each Saturday afternoon for a place in Australia, in the same way the solid citizens of Elizabeth Bay and Toorak bid for their property upgrades.
I tell you one thing, Julie Bishop, as an Australian in trouble overseas who hoped to hear an Australian government voice speak out against tyranny, I am an extremely disappointed citizen. I would put up my Australian citizenship for auction today, if only there were a market.