Phuket Journalists To Face Lawsuits Filed By Navy

(8 April) Editors of the Phuket-based Phuketwan news agency have been scheduled to appear before court on 17 April, after a prosecutor accepted defamation lawsuits filed by the Royal Thai Navy.

Mr. Alan Morison and Ms. Chutima Sidasathian have been accused of defaming the navy by publishing a report originally penned by Reuters which indicated that some servicemen in the Royal Thai Navy were involved in human trafficking trade of Rohingya refugees off the southern coast of Thailand. 

The article appeared on the Phuketwan website in July last year, but it was not until December  that the Royal Thai Navy pressed charges of defamation and violation of the Computer Crimes Act against the two editors.

If found guilty, the pair could face up to 7 years in prison. 

Ms. Chutima and Mr. Morison previously expressed their hope that the public prosecutor would drop the case. But Ms. Chutima told Khaosod today she has learned that the prosecutor has decided to take the case, and ordered the defendants to appear before the judges at Phuket Criminal Court on 17 April. 

According to Ms. Chutima, bail has been set at an estimated at 100,000 baht per person, which she cannot afford. "I do not have any funds set aside for bail money," Ms. Chutima said in a phone interview. "We might just end up in jail on the day we report to the court."

She added that a number of media rights groups, namely Frontline Defenders and the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT), are organising fundraising among their members to post bail for Ms. Chutima and Mr. Morison on 17 April.

However, the editor said she received little or no help from the Thai authorities. Neither the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) nor the Thai Journalist Association (TJA) have offered their assistance in the legal procedure, Ms. Chutima told Khaosod, while her letter to the Rights and Liberty Protection Department went unanswered.

"I filed the letter to the officials in Phuket last month. I just discovered that somehow they did not forward the document to Bangkok," Ms. Chutima said, "I am shocked".  

She is also disheartened by the fact that the lawsuit against Phuketwan has received very little coverage in the Thai mainstream media.  

Rights experts have alleged that the Compter Crimes Act, which Ms. Chutima and Mr. Morison are now facing, is highly detrimental to freedom of speech in Thailand, citing it’s vague and broad definition of what could be constituted as a crime.  

 

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