Journalists in Thai Navy defamation case ‘disappointed’ in Reuters’ response

Phuketwan journalists Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian. Pic: By Casey Hynes Apr 17, !1"

Two Phuketwan journalists were charged today with defaming the Thai Navy, and face seven years in prison and a !,""" fine if convicted# $ Thai Navy captain %rought charges against $lan &orison and 'hutima (idasathian after they repu%lished a paragraph from a Reuters story accusing Thai officials of %eing involved in a human trafficking operation that e)ploits Rohingya refugees from *urma# &orison, who is $ustralian, is Phuketwan’s editor and 'hutima is a reporter# The Reuters story was part of a series that won journalists Jason (+ep and $ndrew R#'# &arshall a Pulit+er Pri+e earlier this week# The morning of their court appearance, ,uman Rights -atch released a statement from *rad $dams, director of the organi+ation’s $sia division, saying. The trial of these two journalists is unjustified and constitutes a dark stain on Thailand’s record for respecting media freedom. The Thai Navy should have debated these journalists publicly if they had concerns with the story rather than insisting on their prosecution under the draconian Computer Crimes Act and criminal libel statutes. It’s now time for Thailand’s leaders to step in and order prosecutors to

drop this case and end this blatant violation of media freedoms once and for all. &orison e)pressed disappointment on %ehalf of himself and 'hutima that Reuters has not %een in contact with either of them and has not taken a stronger stand on their case# /'hutima is surprised and shocked that nothing has %een said in defence of media freedom and Phuketwan %y the organisation she helped, with her usual generosity, to win the Pulit+er# 0 am deeply disappointed, and 0 e)pect many others will %e, too,1 said &orrison, according to a piece on andrew2drummond#com# -hen asked for comment, a Reuters spokesperson reiterated the organi+ation’s statement that, /-e oppose the use of criminal laws to sanction the press 3 large or small, local or international 3 for pu%lication on matters of pu%lic interest, like the Rohingya#1 The 4oreign 'orrespondents 'lu% of Thailand issued a statement congratulating (+ep and &arshall for a series that e)poses /the systematic a%use of Rohingyas in &yanmar 5*urma6 and in Thailand#1 The statement went on to say that /while a large media organi+ation is %eing feted for its reporting, two poorly2funded local journalists are facing prosecution for their reporting of the same issue 3 and indeed for pu%lishing material from a Thomson Reuters report#1 “These two journalists have done more than most to report accurately from Thailand the plight of Rohingyas,1 the statement read# /They have also rendered invalua%le assistance to journalists at Thomson Reuters and other local and foreign media organi+ations attempting to report this humanitarian crisis#1 $sked a%out 'hutima’s contri%ution to the reporting effort on the winning stories, a Reuters spokesperson responded, /-e retained 7hun 'hutima, a Phuketwan local journalist, in a very limited role to help us make appointments# (he was not a mem%er of the team of Reuters journalists who reported and investigated on these stories, nor did we report any information that should have %een credited or otherwise attri%uted to &s# 'hutima#1 $lthough other news outlets repu%lished the Reuters story, only Phuketwan has %een targeted with criminal charges# &orison has said he %elieves Phuketwan is %eing targeted %ecause of its long2standing reporting efforts to e)pose the criminal treatment of Rohingya refugees# ,e has called the navy’s case /an outrageous attempt to the mu++le the media,1 and affirmed that he and 'hutima are willing to go to jail to defend press freedom# The Phuketwan journalists’ situation has drawn international attention and criticism

of the Thai government# &edia outlets including The 8uardian, 'NN, ,uffington Post, and $l2Ja+eera have reported on the case, and ,uman Rights -atch and the 9N have insisted that the government drop the case and focus on investigating the allegations of a%use# Reporters -ithout *orders issued a statement that ran on %oth Phuketwan and a Thomson Reuters 4oundation site# “Taking Phuketwan’s journalists to court is a%surd,1 said *enjamin 0sma:l, the head of the Reporters -ithout *orders $sia2Pacific desk, in the statement# /0f the navy want to dispute the Reuters special report, which has just won a Pulit+er Pri+e, it can pu%licly give its version of events and demand the right of reply#1 0sma:l emphasi+ed that Thailand’s 'omputer 'rimes $ct urgently needs reform, as it /is responsi%le for fre;uent violations of freedom of information %y the authorities#1 ,e added that it is /essential that the international media operating in Thailand should give this trial e)tensive coverage despite government pressure to ignore it#1