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A police officer is seen in Bangkok, Thailand, on May 2, 2019. A Thai court recently sentenced journalist Suchanee Cloitre to two years in jail for criminal defamation. (Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun)

Thai court sentences journalist Suchanee Cloitre to 2 years in jail for defamation

January 3, 2020 12:10 PM ET

Bangkok, January 3, 2020 -- Thai authorities should not contest the appeal of journalist Suchanee Cloitre, and should stop charging reporters with criminal defamation, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On December 24, 2019, a court in Thailand’s central Lopburi province sentenced Suchanee, a former reporter with local news broadcaster Voice TV, to two years in prison over a 2016 tweet she posted while working at the broadcaster, according to news reports.

The tweet criticized Thammakaset, a local poultry farm, which was ordered by a court to pay compensation to workers for labor law violations, according to those reports and the journalist, who spoke to CPJ via phone.

Suchanee told CPJ that she plans to appeal the verdict before the end of January. She was released on 75,000 baht ($2,500) bail after the ruling, the AP report said. She will remain free on bail during the appeal, she told CPJ.

“The two-year jail sentence given to journalist Suchanee Cloitre is a grave threat to press freedom in Thailand and should be overturned on appeal,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Journalists should never be jailed for their critical commentary on issues of public import. It’s high time Thailand repealed its draconian and abusive criminal defamation law.”

Section 326 of Thailand’s criminal code allows for jail sentences of up to two years and fines up to 200,000 baht ($6,600) for public comments that are found to impair a person’s reputation or place them in contempt or hatred by others.

Suchanee told CPJ that she anticipates her appeal could take years to be heard in Thailand’s slow-moving judicial system.

Thammakaset and its owner, Chanchai Permpol, filed lawsuits against 25 journalists and activists who alleged that the company had mistreated migrant workers from Myanmar, according to a report by The Associated Press.

Suchanee told CPJ she had traveled to Samut Sakhon province to cover the chicken farm’s labor situation, and said she requested comment from Thammakaset management about the allegations but never received a response.

The labor allegations in her reporting and posts on social media were based on interviews with workers at the farm, she said.

Thammakaset has denied the allegations of worker mistreatment, according to Reuters. CPJ emailed Chanchai Permpol for comment but did not immediately receive a reply.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The text has been modified in the ninth paragraph to correct the location of Suchanee's reporting.

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