Journalists from Thai news website acquitted of defaming Royal Navy as unions call for reform

journosTwo journalists from a Thai news website have walked free from a Phuket court after been acquitted of criminally defaming the Thai Royal Navy.

Thai Chutima Sidasathian and Australian Alan Morrison, who worked for, were charged in April last year after republishing a Reuters story which suggested the Navy were involved in the smuggling of Rohingya migrants.

The Navy used a law known as the Computer Crimes Act to file a defamation suit against the pair.

Sidasathian and Morrison were acquitted by the Phuket Provincial Court today, with the judge saying it is not appropriate for authorities to use the Computer Crimes Act as a way of punishing journalists for defamation.

He said the law relates to hacking and malicious software.

In delivering his verdict, Justice Chaipthawat Chaya-ananphat said Sidasathian and Morrison were merely reporting what Reuters had already published and were not their own words.

He also found that no damage was caused to the Royal Thai Navy and the translation which referred to the Royal Thai Navy was a mistranslation.

The South East Asia Jounalist Unions, the International Federation of Journalists and the Australian union representing journalists, the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA), all heralded the verdict, followed a two day trial in July, as victory for press freedom.

The SEAJU the IFJ are now calling on the Southeast Asian governments to immediately repeal all laws supporting criminal defamation across the region in support of press freedom.

“Across the South East Asia region criminal defamation is becoming a tool to stifle press freedom and intimidation journalists. This needs to stop,” the SEAJU said. “Action needs to be taken by governments to repeal laws that suppress freedom of speech.”

The IFJ added: “We have argued from the beginning is an attempt to silence critics of Thailand and its government. The decision signals the need to end the criminalization of free speech in Thailand and to let journalists go about their duty of informing the public without let or hindrance.”

Australia’s MEAA chief executive, Paul Murphy, described it as a “vitally important case”,  adding the use of criminal defamation laws to “muzzle the media and stifle free expression is a real threat to public interest journalism”.

“Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian should be applauded for their courageous news stories highlighting the plight of the Rohingya people,” he said. “Instead, their lives and their work was thrown into upheaval for two years during this case.

“The fact that the Navy didn’t pursue Reuters but chose instead to go after these two journalists is indicative of a frightening attempt to intimidate, harass and silence local news media. Alan and Chutima were determined to take a stand for press freedom and the public’s right to know despite the prospect of seven years’ jail in a Thai prison. For that, we should all be grateful.”

The verdict follows on from from Morrison and Sidasethian  launching a 30-day campaign for press freedom in the run-up to World Media Freedom Day on May 3.

If the duo had been convicted they faced a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment and a fine.


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