Phuketwan journalists acquitted of defaming Thai Navy
Share this on

Phuketwan journalists acquitted of defaming Thai Navy

A Thai provincial court has dismissed charges against two journalists accused of defaming the Royal Thai Navy for reporting on its alleged involvement in the trafficking of Rohingya migrants.

The charges against Australian national Alan Morison and his Thai colleague Chutima Sidasathian were dismissed at a provincial court on the southern Thai island of Phuket Tuesday morning. The couple faced up to seven years in prison.

The charges, filed in late 2013 against the Phuketwan news website journalists, relate to one paragraph, an excerpt from a series of Pulitzer Prize-winning Reuters stories concerning the human trafficking of the Rohingya from Burma (Myanmar) through to Thailand and into Malaysia, republished on the website. The Navy claimed that the paragraph in question “is false information which caused disgrace and harm to the reputation of the Navy.”   The paragraph said to defame the Royal Thai Navy is as follows: ‘“The Thai naval forces usually earn about 2000 baht per Rohingya for spotting a boat or turning a blind eye,” said the smuggler, who works in the southern Thai region of Phang Nga and deals directly with the navy and police.’ No charges were brought against the authors of the original Reuters stories. (READ MORE: ‘We were ambushed’, says Phuketwan editor ahead of defamation trial) The singling out of the Phuketwan journalists was widely condemned by human rights and media freedom organizations. The pair appeared upbeat ahead of Tuesday morning’s hearing in a tweet sent from Chutima Sidasathian’s account:

Delivering his verdict, the judge at the Phuket court said Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act, with which the pair were charged with violating, should not be used in such cases.

Speaking to AFP after the verdict Chutima said: “The judge did the right thing, this is a big step for freedom of expression and freedom of the media in Thailand.”

“I am happy that the court clearly said that the information we presented was useful to society and that they were not defamatory.”

The ruling was immediately welcomed by human rights activists in the region: