Media activist and editors sued; millions sought

New York, August 25, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the civil libel suit filed this week by the telecommunications giant Shin Corporation against media activist Supinya Klangnarong. The lawsuit seeks damages of Bt400 million (US$10 million).

The Thai-language newspaper the Thai Post and three of its editors—Thaweesin Sathitrattanacheewin, Roj Ngammaen, and Kannikar Wiriyakul—are also named co-defendants in the civil libel action, according to the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), a regional press freedom group. Local sources say the first hearing in the civil case is scheduled for October.

Supinya, the Thai Post, and the editors already face criminal libel charges, and are due to go on trial September 6. If convicted on the criminal libel charges, they face a maximum prison sentence of two years and a fine of Bt200,000 (US$5,000).

The charges against Supinya, secretary-general of the nongovernmental organization Campaign for Popular Media Reform, stem from critical remarks she made about Shin Corporation and its connections to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s political party, Thai Rak Thai, published in July 2003 in the Thai Post. Based on the sharp rise in the Shin Corporation’s profits since 2001, when Thaksin took office, she said the company had benefited from his policies and that represented a conflict of interest.

Thaksin founded Shin Corporation, Thailand’s largest telecommunications and mobile phone company, in the late 1980s. Although he transferred his assets from the company to other family members when elected prime minister in January 2001, his family still runs the corporation.

Shin Corporation brought the criminal charges against Supinya, the Thai Post, and the editors in October 2003.

“This civil suit, with its shockingly disproportionate damages, is another blow to press freedom in Thailand,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call on Shin Corporation to stop both the criminal and civil libel proceedings against Supinya and the Thai Post.”

In a letter to Thaksin on July 12, 2004,
CPJ asked him to urge his family members, as majority shareholders in Shin Corporation, to drop the criminal case against Supinya, the Thai Post, and its editors.