THAILAND–Almost eight months after being arrested at a Bangkok airport, an award-winning broadcast journalist remained in jail in mid-May for his alleged involvement in international drug smuggling. He is scheduled to be tried in early July.
Steven Roye, who has worked as a reporter and producer in radio and television news since 1967, faces a 20-year prison sentence if he pleads guilty, and possibly a life sentence if he fights charges that he operated as a drug courier for a cartel stretching from Los Angeles to the Far East.
The journalist had been tracking drug-trading operations between Southeast Asia and Southern California since mid-September, posing as a courier in order to gather details for a series of articles and a possible screenplay, according to a lawyer working on his behalf, former deputy U.S. attorney general George Terwilliger III. Terwilliger said Thai officials refused to hear arguments that Roye was acting as a journalists and had no intention of furthering the drug trade.
Roye had become involved with the ring of smugglers in Los Angeles. When he was arrested in Bangkok in late October, he had three kilograms of heroin in the lining of his suitcase. He allegedly had been trying to smuggle the drugs into Amsterdam. Roye now awaits an early-July trial date.
The newsman had tried to back out of being a courier after arriving in Thailand, Terwilliger said, but drug leaders coerced him by threatening to harm his elderly mother and 20-year-old son.
“He tried to carry it as far forward as he could,” Terwilliger said, but he had gotten too far into the trade to back out without reprisal.
Though not directly representing Roye, the attorney said he joined the case to raise interest within the Department of Justice, the State Department and other federal agencies to persuade Thai officials not to convict the journalist.
“It is clear to me that this person … is not a criminal who deserves to rot away” in prison, said Terwilliger, who would not elaborate on potential strategies to be used to free Roye.
The former Justice Department official also referred to a letter submitted to Thomas Furey, consul general at the American Embassy in Bangkok, by U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency officials, asserting that Roye had “made every effort to assist both the DEA and Thai couunterparts” in arresting two other couriers working with Roye. The journalist had provided detailed accounts of his and other couriers’ involvement in the smuggling venture, ultimately leading to their arrests.
The Thai government has made no official response to the letter, Terwilliger said, adding that response from the Department of Justice has not been favorable. “They basically said, ‘It’s not our problem,'” he said.
The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.