Reporters Without Borders reiterates its call for the withdrawal of all proceedings against two journalists who are to be tried tomorrow in the southwestern province of Phuket on charges of contravening the Computer Crimes Act and defaming the Royal Thai Navy for quoting from a Reuters special report on the smuggling of Rohingya refugees from neighbouring Burma.
The two journalists are Alan Morison, the Australian editor of the Phuket-based news website Phuketwan, and Chutima Sidasathian, a Thai reporter who works for the site.
The case was brought by Naval Capt. Panlob Komtonlok with the support of Admiral Polawat Sirodom, the navy’s deputy commander. Morison and Chutima are facing a possible five-year jail sentence and fine of 100,000 bahts (3,000 US dollars) under the Computer Crimes Act and another two years in prison for criminal defamation.
“Taking Phuketwan’s journalists to court is absurd,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk. “If the navy want to dispute the Reuters special report, which has just won a Pulitzer Prize, it can publicly give its version of events and demand the right of reply.
“By using the Computer Crimes Act to intimidate journalists, the navy is just making it obvious that it wants to conceal this sensitive information and deter any comments on this humanitarian scandal. We urge the court not to proceed with this improper complaint.”
Ismaïl added: “This case highlights the urgent need for reform of the Computer Crimes Acts, which is responsible for frequent violations of freedom of information by the authorities. It is also essential that the international media operating in Thailand should give this trial extensive coverage despite government pressure to ignore it.”
The special report by Reuters journalists Jason Szep and Andrew R.C. Marshall on Thai trafficking in Burma’s refugees was awarded a Pulitzer Prize on 14 March for “courageous” reporting on the Rohingya and the “predatory human-trafficking networks” to which they often fall prey.
Phuketwan has meanwhile begun a symbolic countdown to 3 May, World Press Freedom Day.
Thailand is ranked 130th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
Credit photo: Phuketwan