Photojournalists face deportation in Thailand

Bangkok, January 21, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned about the charges and threatened deportation of Thailand-based freelance photojournalists John Sanlin, a Burmese passport holder, and Pascal Schatterman, a Belgian national.

“We call on Thai authorities to reconsider the deportation of journalists John Sanlin and Pascal Schatterman and take into consideration the prospect that Sanlin will suffer severe reprisals if he is forcibly returned to Burma,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Thailand has long been a safe haven for exiled journalists to report freely on Burma. CPJ encourages the Thai government to maintain that important press freedom role for the region.”

Both reporters were arrested by Thai authorities at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday in the Thai border town of Mae Sot after re-entering the country from Burma, where they were covering the escalating armed conflict between Burmese government troops and ethnic Karen insurgents.

Authorities confiscated their video footage, including images of internally displaced people suffering from severe deprivation in the remote conflict zone, according to CPJ sources. Today, a Thai court sentenced Sanlin and Schatterman to one-year terms, imposed nominal fines of 500 baht (about US$16), and ruled they could remain in the country because they had no previous immigration offenses.

But after immigration police conferred with the presiding judge, the two journalists were taken back into custody at the courthouse and told they would be deported to their respective countries in the next day or two, according to CPJ sources. The two reporters are expected to be transported on Saturday to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, where they are scheduled to be deported.

Sanlin, who has previously provided video footage to Al-Jazeera and France 24, told CPJ he fears that he will suffer reprisals for his journalism if he is deported to Burma. He said he holds a student visa for Thailand, which is valid through March.

Sanlin was on the front-lines of Thailand’s armed street clashes last year and provided exclusive video footage aired by France 24 of an April 10 grenade attack that killed and severely injured several Thai soldiers.

Military-ruled Burma is the world’s fourth worst jailer of journalists, with at least 13 journalists in prison.