CPJ concerned about trial of journalists on defamation charges in Thailand

July 10, 2015 11:34 AM ET

July 10, 2015

Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha
Prime Minister
Royal Thai Government
Government House
Pitsanulok Road, Dusit
Bangkok, Thailand 10300

Via facsimile: +66(0)2-282-5131

Dear Prime Minister Prayuth,

The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about the trial on Tuesday of two journalists who face up to seven years in prison if convicted on defamation and computer crime charges.

Alan Morison, an Australian national, and Chutima Sidasathian, a Thai citizen, are reporters for Phuketwan, a small, English-language newspaper based in the southern Thai province of Phuket. Chutima had earlier served as a paid fixer for the Reuters news agency on two occasions and had introduced Reuters reporters to news sources.

In April 2014, a court charged the two journalists in connection with a 41-word paragraph published in the July 2013 edition of Phuketwan. The paragraph was an excerpt from a Reuters special report, which quoted an anonymous source claiming that Thai naval forces had profited from the smuggling of ethnic Rohingya. Phuketwan published the Thai navy's denial of the allegation.

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. Morison told CPJ that local advertisers have stopped taking placements in Phuketwan due to fear of official reprisal. He said he spends approximately a third of his time at work preparing for the trial. Both reporters spent five hours in jail during an April 2014 bail hearing.

In 2014, Reuters won a Pulitzer Prize for a series of groundbreaking stories on the plight of ethnic Rohingya trafficked by human smuggling rings from Myanmar and Bangladesh to countries in Southeast Asia. (Authorities threatened to file defamation charges against Reuters, but later dropped the threat.)

Other recent coverage has revealed the existence of mass graves and jungle detention camps where Rohingya were held and, in some instances, executed by human smuggling rings active in Thailand's remote southernmost region. The news accounts corroborated earlier investigative reporting undertaken by Morison and Chutima, beginning in 2008 when they first reported that Rohingya boatpeople were appearing on Thailand's shores and naval authorities were quietly pushing them back to sea.

Prime Minister Prayuth, following international pressure, your government has launched investigations into official complicity in the illicit trafficking trade, which has led to the arrest of at least one senior military official and the transfers of several other security personnel. We believe the legal threat against Morison and Chutima is intended to discourage other journalists from probing the politically sensitive issue of human trafficking in your country.

As your administration comes to terms with the full extent of Thailand's human trafficking problem, we urge you to ensure that journalists are able to conduct thorough investigative reporting in order to inform the public and curb future abuses. The charges against Morison and Chutima risk damaging the international reputation of the entire Thai armed forces and should be dropped immediately.

Sincerely,

Joel Simon
Executive Director

CC List:

Admiral Kraison Chansuwanit, Commander, Royal Thai Navy

General Udomdej Sitabutr, Army Commander-in-Chief, Thailand

General Prawit Wonsuwan, Minister of Defense, Thailand

Paul Robilliard, Australian Ambassador to Thailand

Wanchai Wongmeechai, President, Thai Journalists Association

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