Shawn Crispin, the magazine's bureau chief, and correspondent Rodney Tasker, who is also president of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand, received an official notice revoking their visas dated February 22, the same day that Thai-language newspapers carried stories saying that the police had placed the two reporters on a so-called blacklist.
The action stemmed from a January 10 item in the FEER that discussed tensions between Thailand's venerated King Bhumibol Adulyadej and the prime minister's office. The article was largely based on public comments the king made that were seen as critical of the government. Officials banned the January 10 issue from being sold in Thailand, claiming the magazine violated local press laws that forbid criticizing the monarchy.
"Thailand's reputation as a country that respects press freedom would be severely damaged if these two reporters are deported," said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. "Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra appears to be using King Bhumibol Adulyadej's revered status to stifle criticism of his own administration."
Decision appealed, government pressured
The magazine presented a formal appeal to Thai immigration officials on Monday afternoon in Bangkok. FEER's lawyers believe the immigration department will answer the appeal within seven days.
The magazine's publisher, Philip Revzin, and editor-in-chief, Michael Vatikiotis, were also named in the blacklist circulated to Thai media outlets.
Thaksin was quoted in the Thai press saying he knew nothing of the order to expel the journalists. But on Monday, the U.S. ambassador to Thailand, Darryl Johnson, raised the issue with the prime minister in very forceful terms, according to the U.S. embassy.
Powerful interior minister, Purachai Piemsomboon, who must formally sign any deportation order, told reporters that it was purely an immigration issue. "This matter has nothing to do with prime minister's personal anger over FEER," Purachai told the Associated Press. "Please do not speculate that the government has ordered the police to do such kind of thing."
Thai journalists have complained repeatedly that telecommunications mogul Thaksin, who came to power in a landslide vote early last year, has tried to mute government criticism through informal pressure on the local press. Until now, the foreign press has been relatively immune to government pressure.
While government spokesmen have occasionally lodged official complaints about correspondents' articles or coverage, no foreign reporter has been deported from the country for decades.
Thailand is one of the most open democracies in Asia. A 1997 reform constitution guarantees press freedom but does allow for restrictions on the press in the name of "national security."