THAILAND: Acting prime minister files more criminal and civil defamation suits

New York, June 15, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns Thailand’s caretaker prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s continuing use of criminal defamation charges to silence critical media outlets. The most recent charges, filed on Wednesday, targeted three Thai-language dailies, Matichon, Khao Sod and Daily News.

Thaksin’s lawyers also filed one criminal and one civil defamation charge against the opposition Democrat party and the party’s spokesman Thepthai Sanepongse for comments he made, which the three newspapers published. Thepthai accused Thaksin of unjustly clinging to political power.

Bangkok’s criminal court will hear the first case on October 16. Criminal defamation charges in Thailand carry a possible two-year jail sentence and fines of up to 200,000 baht (US$5,000). In the civil suit, Thaksin is requesting the equivalent of US$21 million in damages.

“We call upon Thailand’s prime minister to immediately stop his campaign of intimidation and harassment of the media,” said Ann Cooper, CPJ’s executive director. “The use of criminal defamation suits against journalists has a chilling effect on press freedom, and Thaksin’s recent actions seem to indicate that’s exactly what he has in mind.”

In late May, Thaksin filed a criminal defamation suit against the Manager Daily newspaper over a series of stories alleging Thaksin had held secret meetings in Finland to discuss changing Thailand’s political system from a constitutional monarchy to a presidential system. Thaksin’s lawyer recently indicated that he would file a follow-up US$26 million civil defamation suit against the Manager Group’s founder Sondhi Limthongkul. Thaksin’s chief adviser, Pansak Vinyaratn, called the claims “black propaganda.” According to Thai media reports, Thaksin told cabinet members that his opponents had fabricated the story to undermine his leadership.

Last year, Thaksin filed a string of criminal and civil defamation suits against Sondhi and the Manager Media Group’s various publications for critical comments Sondhi made during anti-government protests. Thaksin later dropped those suits after King Bhumibol Adulyadej criticized the litigation during his birthday address to the nation.