A COALITION of 80 NGOs and 30 activists is seeking the immediate withdrawal of criminal proceedings against a Thai journalist facing punishment under the kingdom’s highly-criticised Computer Crime Act for allegedly defaming a local mining firm.
In a joint statement, the coalition led by Reporters Without Borders condemned Thai mining company Myanmar Phongpipat Co Ltd for filing the lawsuit against The Nation reporter Pratch Rujivanarong and urged for intervention from the Thai government, saying it should protect press freedom and decriminalise defamation.
Pratch is being sued by the firm over an article he had written in which he claimed the company’s tin mine had “destroyed” water sources in Burma.
“We are concerned about the use of criminal defamation laws and the Computer Crime Act to restrict the right to freedom of opinion and expression in Thailand, as well as to intimidate human rights defenders and journalists,” said the coalition’s statement.
Earth Rights International, Land Watch Thai and some 56 Burmese NGOs signed the open letter.
Myanmar Phongpipat’s legal complaint claims The Nation journalist’s report makes false accusations about the environmental impacts of its operations in and around Burma’s Myaung Pyo River.
The original article entitled Thai mine ‘destroyed Myanmar water sources’ cited a scientific study which found that water leaking into the river system from the tailing ponds at the Heinda mine was heavily contaminated with manganese, arsenic and lead.
The report notes that the Thai Human Rights Commission had also investigated the “environmental tragedy.”
“Right now many people have to depend on small amounts of water piped from the mountain, or have to buy expensive drinking water from outside,” one villager is quoted as saying.
“We used to have a wide and clean river at our backyard that we could use for consumption, washing clothes, or fishing. But now that is history.”
If convicted under Thailand’s criminal defamation and cybercrime laws, Pratch faces up to five years’ imprisonment and a THB200,000 (US$5,600) fine.
Human rights groups have increasingly expressed concern with crackdowns on freedom of speech and association since the military staged a coup in 2014.
“Thailand will only benefit when human rights defenders, journalists, and the media are allowed to practice their professions peacefully and carry out activities without fear of intimidation or judicial harassment,” said the statement.