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Imprisonment of journalists may spell doom for online news site in Thailand

UPDATE from International Federation of Journalists: Delays for Thai journalists facing jail time (12 March 2014)

Two journalists in Thailand's Phuket province will be formally charged on Monday 10 March 2014 for criminal defamation and violating the Computer Crime Act (CCA) in connection with an online news article about Rohingya Muslim refugees.

Journalists Alan Morison (65 yrs) and Chutima Sidasathian (32 yrs) of the online the tourism news site Phuketwan are set to appear before the provincial Prosecutors' Office at 9.30 am on 10 March to hear the formal indictment for defaming the Royal Thai Navy and for violating section 14 of the 2007 CCA.

The indictment will mark the beginning of the legal procedure in the provincial court.

To remain free, Morison and Chutima will have to post bail in order to avoid going to jail while awaiting court summons for the hearing.

Defamation carries a penalty of up to one year imprisonment while violating the CCA is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Both have denied the charges, emphasizing that the information in their article – quoting at length a Reuters news article – also appeared in other Thai newspapers.

She believed the charge brought against her and Alan was an attempt to destroy the newspaper once and for all since Phuketwan has been consistently following closely the story of human trafficking of Rohingya refugees since 2008.

Chutima told SEAPA that the charges against them in December have led to the resignation of all Phuketwan junior staff because of mental pressure.

"Without me and Alan outside the jail, it is likely the newspaper would be closed", she said.

According to Frontline Defenders, Phuketwan won a number of human rights awards for persistently publishing stories about the plight of Rohingya Muslim refugee, including 'Best Investigative Report on Human Rights' from the South China Morning Post in 2009.

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