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Online journalist countersues in response to charges linked to lèse majesté cases

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders welcomes the complaint that online journalist Frank G. Anderson filed on 20 March 2010 against two men who brought criminal defamation charges against him, having accused him of defaming them in online articles. RSF believes this is the first time that a journalist has countersued in response to lèse majesté-linked charges.

"We have long been condemning the abuse of lèse majesté charges for political ends, which restricts free expression in Thailand," Reporters Without Borders said. "This counter-accusation that a journalist facing a criminal defamation suit has brought against his accusers will be a major test for the Thai judicial system. It should act with objectivity and use this opportunity to send a warning to all those who use lèse majesté and defamation charges to intimidate journalists."

A US citizen resident in the northeastern city of Korat, Anderson was summoned by the Bangkok police in February and again a few days ago in response to criminal defamation charges brought against him by Akbar Khan, a British consultant resident in Thailand, and Police Lt. Col. Wattanasak Mungkitkarndee, over articles about them that he posted on his news website, The Korat Post, in December 2008. According to police, the criminal defamation charges were first lodged with Thailand's crime supression division.

Anderson's articles criticised the lèse majesté charges they have brought against journalists such as former BBC correspondent Jonathan Head and government opponents such as Jakrapop Penkair because there was no proof to support their accusation and because lèse-majesté allegations conflict with the king's own statements that he is not above criticism.

Since filing their complaints against Anderson in December 2008 and March 2009, neither Khan nor the police colonel has tried to contact him to request the withdrawal of the offending articles. Anderson nonetheless did remove the articles after learning of the complaints. Now he is countersuing under articles 137, 172 and 179 of the Thai criminal code, accusing Khan and Wattanasak of making false allegations to state officials and unlawfully exaggerating the seriousness of the alleged offense.

Meanwhile, Thai distributors of the London-based "Economist" magazine have cancelled distribution of its 18 March issue, which contains a long article entitled "As father fades, his children fight", analysing the impact of the king's hospitalisation and the royal succession problem on the current political crisis.

According to Reuters, it is the fourth time the "Economist" has been censored, or has had to censor itself, since December 2008. In other words, the magazine is one more victim of the use of the threat of lèse majesté charges to harass the media.

At least 10 Internet users and journalists have been the target of lèse majesté prosecutions. One of them, blogger Suwicha Thakor, is currently serving a 10-year jail sentence that he received on 3 April 2009. He was arrested by police on 14 January 2009, in his hometown Nakhon Phanom in the northeast, and charged with committing offences that included sending pictures offensive to the king and the heir apparent via the internet. He insists he has never criticised the king.

Thailand is on the list of "countries under surveillance" in the report on "Enemies of the Internet" that Reporters Without Borders released on 12 March.

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