The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is gravely concerned that Thailand's criminal defamation laws are being used to suppress critical voices. In June, a court ruled that telecommunications giant Shin Corporation could sue media reformer Supinya Klangnarong for criminal libel. On July 5, London Times' Bangkok correspondent Andrew Drummond was convicted of criminal libel in a separate suit.
The case against Supinya, secretary-general of the nongovernmental organization Campaign for Popular Media Reform, stems from critical remarks she made about Shin Corporation and its connections with Your Excellency's political party, Thai Rak Thai, published in July 2003 in the Thai-language newspaper the Thai Post. She said that, based on the sharp rise in the Shin Corporation's profits since 2001, when you took office, the company had benefited from your administration's policies, which was a conflict of interest. Your Excellency founded Shin Corporation, Thailand's largest telecommunications and mobile phone company, in the late 1980s. Although you transferred your assets from the company to other family members when you were elected prime minister in January 2001, your family still runs the corporation.
Last October, Shin Corporation filed a criminal libel suit against Supinya, the Thai General Group, which owns the Thai Post, and three editors from the paper over the article. On June 22, 2004, a judge in Bangkok's Criminal Court ruled that Shin Corporation could proceed with the case. The three editors, Thaweesin Sathitrattanacheewin, Roj Ngammaen and Kannikar Wiriyakul, and Supinya have been named as co-defendants in the case and face a maximum sentence of two years in jail and a 200,000 baht (US$5,000) fine. The first hearing in the case has been scheduled for September 6.
Meanwhile, on July 5, a court in the resort town of Pattaya convicted Scottish journalist Andrew Drummond of libel and handed down a six-month suspended prison sentence with a 60,000 baht (US$1,500) fine. It was the third ruling against Drummond in a case launched by James Lumsden, the owner of Pattaya's largest gay nightclub, Boyz Boyz Boyz, in retaliation for a May 2001 investigative article that ran in the English-language Bangkok Post.
Drummond's article featured well-documented allegations against Lumsden that accused him of defrauding two business partners. Lumsden has said that the investors were not defrauded but willingly signed over their investments, according to local press reports. The journalist stands by his story and plans to appeal the verdict.
The prosecutor in Drummond's case, Prempreecha Dibbayawan, is also a director of the holding company that runs Boyz Boyz Boyz, according to Drummond.
CPJ calls on Your Excellency to urge your family members, as the majority shareholders in Shin Corporation, to drop the libel lawsuit against Supinya Klangnarong, the Thai General Group, and the three Thai post editors. This lawsuit against critical voices is an attack on the press that violates Thailand's 1997 constitution, which protects free speech, as well as internationally accepted norms. As a public figure, Your Excellency must accept that your actions warrant scrutiny by the independent media and the public.
CPJ also condemns the July 6 guilty verdict against Andrew Drummond. Defamation should be a strictly civil matter. Journalists should never be criminally prosecuted for their work. Such protections are especially important for investigative journalists, who expose corruption and abuses of power.
As an organization of journalists dedicated to defending our colleagues worldwide, CPJ urges Your Excellency to stop this pattern of press freedom abuses by working to eliminate Thailand's outdated criminal defamation laws. Defamation should never be a criminal offense. Such laws only serve to intimidate the media and stifle dissent.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We await your response.