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Australian, Thai journalists to be tried on Thai navy defamation charges

This statement was originally published on ifj.org on 9 July 2015.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its Australian affiliate the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) in condemning the charges and the impending court case against Australian journalist Alan Morison and Thai journalist Chutima Sidasathian, both of the online news web site phuketwan.com. The IFJ and MEAA today called on the Thai Government to immediately drop all charges against the pair.

The charges relate to the reproduction on phuketwan.com of a single paragraph from a Reuters special report on Rohingya boat-people published in July 2013. Reuters subsequently won a Pulitzer Prize for the investigation in 2014.

The journalists were charged with criminal defamation on April 17, 2014, under articles 326 and 328 of the Thai Criminal Code. The charges carry a maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment and a fine of up to 200,000 Baht (USD $6000). They were also charged with violation of article 14(1) of the Computer Crimes Act, which carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment and a fine of up to 100,000 Baht (USD $3000).

Next week, on July 14, Morison and Sidasathian will face the Phuket Provincial Court. Following a three day trial, the judge is expected to consider a verdict for up to 30 days.

Since the military takeover of the country in May 2014, the IFJ has documented a steady decline in press freedom with the ruling military junta in Thailand continuing to repress and stifle the role of the media and freedom of expression in Thailand.

Alan Morison said: “We are content to leave the decision to Thai justice, although some people have some concerns about the potential for a negative outcome. We feel committed to make a stance for a free media in Thailand. This case was wrong from the very beginning, with one or two officers acting on bad advice.”

MEAA CEO Paul Murphy said: “This is an outrageous assault on press freedom. It is an appalling misuse of the law with the intent of silencing legitimate journalism. The action by the Royal Thai Navy has been rightly condemned by the United Nations, the International Commission of Jurists and human rights and freedom of expression groups around the world. MEAA urges the Thai authorities to step back from the brink of making a dreadful decision and, instead, focus on the need for cooperation across the region to deal with the tragic plight of the Rohingya people.”

The IFJ said: “The charges against Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian are a blatant attack intended to intimidate and silence Thailand's media – over the reprinting of an item of news that was a legitmate and now award-winning Reuters investigation into the Thai navy. This case must be condemned in the strongest possible terms and we strongly call for common sense to prevail and for all charges to be dropped.”

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
What other IFEX members are saying
  • Joint Letter to Thai PM on Phuketwan Journalists

    Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian have been unfairly charged with serious offenses for simply doing their jobs in a system that authorities claim is committed to respecting freedom of expression and the media. Their actions should not constitute a crime. We sincerely hope that you will recognize this and request an immediate withdrawal of all criminal complaints and charges against the Phuketwan journalists, seeking an end to the prosecution.

  • RSF to attend website journalists' trial in Phuket

    “The trial of these two journalists, who just did their job as news providers with a great deal of professionalism, poses a great danger to all those independent voices in Thailand who want to use their freedom of expression and information."

  • CPJ concerned about trial of journalists on defamation charges in Thailand

    Morison and Chutima told CPJ that the charges against them have inhibited their ability to gather and publish news. Chutima said she has faced frequent official harassment, including a ban on her reporting on press events organized by the National Council for Peace and Order military junta.



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