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Four newspapers threatened with defamation

(SEAPA/IFEX) - 27 February 2012 - The Thai Deputy Prime Minister, Chalerm Yoobamrung, has threatened to sue four Thai language daily newspapers for defamation for publishing articles that accused him of being drunk during the parliament's charter amendment debate on 25 February, according to local newspaper reports.

In announcing his intention on 26 February, Chalerm sent his lawyer Opas Sroison to file the complaint with the Samee Dam police station against "Thai Post", "Thai Rath", "Siam Rath" and "Naew Na" and two Democratic Party spokespersons, Chavanont Indrakomarasut and Malika Boonmeetrakul, whom he accused of defaming his reputation, according to the 27 February report of Thai language daily "Matichon".

The legal threat stemmed from the accusation made by Democratic Party Member of Parliament Rangsima Rodrasmee during the last session of the charter amendment debate on 24 February that the deputy prime minister was drunk while debating and she could smell liquor on him. The accusation prompted a heated argument on both sides. The debate was broadcast live over local television stations. The incident was widely reported in the local media and has become a hot topic among members of the opposition.

"Matichon" quoted Chalerm as saying he could not sue Ransima due to her parliamentary immunity.

The English language local daily, "Bangkok Post", reported on 26 February that Chalerm repeatedly harassed Democrat Party and opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva as the latter concluded his party's debate over the draft amendment to the Constitution. This prompted Rangsima to protest and accused him of being drunk, according to the "Bangkok Post"'s report.

The report further said Chalerm admitted he had consumed alcohol but was not drunk, and he threatened to bring both civil and criminal lawsuits against his accusers. The police investigator-turned politician said he has set up a lawyers' team to check those who wrongly accused him of being drunk and which newspapers had published remarks of his accusers.

This will be the first legal action brought against the mainstream media and critics of the government since the administration of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra came into power last August. Defamation is a criminal offence under the Penal Code, punishable by up to two years' imprisonment under Article 328, or fine up to Bt200,000 (USD6,500), or both, where it is by means of publication or otherwise in some permanent form.

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