COURT DECISION SIGNALS VICTORY FOR FREE EXPRESSION
On 14 March 2006, the Bangkok Criminal Court dismissed charges against Supinya and the newspaper on the grounds that companies, like public figures, should be open to criticism which is in the public interest.
Shin Corp., the media conglomerate which until recently was controlled by the family of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, filed a criminal complaint against Supinya and the "Thai Post" in October 2003. The defendants faced possible two-year jail terms and fines of 200,000 baht (US$5,000). Shin Corp. later filed a civil suit seeking 400 million baht (US$10 million) in damages from Supinya and the "Thai Post".
The judge leading the panel ruled that Supinya had spoken out legitimately on a matter of public interest when, two years ago, she raised questions about Shin Corp.'s revenues and the possibility that it was benefiting from Thaksin's rise to power.
The ruling was hailed by the Southeast Asia Press Alliance (SEAPA), ARTICLE 19, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
The Shinawatra family sold its controlling stake in Shin Corp. in January 2006 to Singapore?s state-run Temasek Holdings in a deal valued at US$1.88 billion. In February, Temasek contacted Supinya's lawyers and requested an out-of-court settlement. Supinya rejected the offer.
The ruling is a welcome boost to local journalists and free expression advocates who have faced an increasing number of defamation lawsuits filed by Thai politicians in recent months.
Visit these links:
- IFEX Resources on Defamation: http://www.ifex.org/eng/content/view/full/236/
- SEAPA: http://www.seapabkk.org/newdesign/newsdetail.php?No=468
- ARTICLE 19: http://www.article19.org/pdfs/press/thailand-supinya-acquitted.pdf
- ARTICLE 19's Witness Statement at Supinya Trial:
- CPJ: http://www.cpj.org/news/2006/asia/thai15mar06na.html
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=16760
- IFJ: http://www.ifj.org/default.asp?Index=3779&Language=EN
- IFJ Campaign Kit on Criminal Defamation: http://www.ifj-asia.org/files/ifj_defamation_lr.pdf
- Defining Defamation: Principles on Freedom of Expression and Protection of Reputation:
- WACC: http://www.wacc.org.uk/supinya
(Photo of Supinya: RSF)