The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today condemned the decision of the Thai government to charge three journalists from Myanmar, who fled the military crackdown in their country.

According to media reports, three journalists and two activists, who sought refuge in Thailand, have been put on trial for illegally entering the country.  If found guilty by Thai courts they will be deported to Myanmar, where they face arrest and torture at the hands of the military regime.

The names of the three journalists, who worked for Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), have not been revealed by the authorities. They are being held in police custody in Chang Mail district. The broadcaster is one of the many media organizations banned by the military junta.

“The decision of the Thai government to file charges against the journalists who fled Myanmar is reprehensible and should be withdrawn immediately. The authorities are aware of the arrests and torture that journalists are subject to in the neighbouring country”, IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said. “We expect the international community to intervene and urge the Thai government to provide shelter to Myanmar journalists, who are under grave threat in their own country.”

So far, Thailand was considered to be a safe destination for journalists fleeing repression by the military junta in Myanmar. Since the military grabbed power on February 1, it has arrested more than 80 journalists and closed down several media organizations in a bid to silence independent journalists and stifle protests. In the past too, Myanmar’s journalists have sought refuge in Thailand to escape oppression in their country.

“Thailand was a sanctuary for Myanmar journalists in the aftermath of the 1988 violence, when the military, like now, brutally crushed peaceful demonstrations. I really hope the Thai authorities will take into account the current situation in Myanmar when determining the fate of these journalists and their associates and not just view it purely as an issue of illegal entry (or) preventing COVID-19 “, Thin Lei Win, a freelance Myanmar journalist based in Europe, told IPI.

Urging the Thai government not to deport the journalists, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand said in a statement that these journalists would face persecution if they are sent back, owing to their association with the DVB.

Another journalist based in Myanmar, who did not want to be identified, said the prosecution launched by the Thai government would certainly dissuade many more journalists planning to leave the country. “Thailand is the nearest neighbour and we all thought that it is a safe place for us to go in times of crises. Now that door has been shut”, the journalist said.

Although, Thailand is not a signatory to the 1951 refugee convention and does not framework for the protection of asylum seekers, more than 90,000 asylum seekers and refugees, mostly from the ethnic minority communities from Myanmar are living in the country.