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Thai news site faces Royal Navy in court on defamation charges

PhuketwanAn online news outlet in Thailand is facing a criminal libel charge led by the Royal Thai Navy over a paragraph in a story that quoted a report by Reuters.

An article published in July 2013 by Phuketwan, which is edited by Australian journalist Alan Morison, allegedly harmed the navy’s reputation with a passage covering the smuggling of Rohingya migrants.

The case marks the first time Thailand’s military forces have used the Computer Crimes Act to file a criminal defamation suit against a media organisation, the Bangkok Post is reporting.

The news emerges a little over a fortnight after Thailand climbed two places in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index – up from 137th in 2012 to 135th – despite the jailing of a journalist and a blogger this year.

Morison, who was charged on Christmas Eve with defamation along with his colleague reporter Chutima Sidasathian, could face up to two years in jail for defamation and breaching the Computer Crimes Act.

However, the pair has received backing from the United Nations over the case.

A UN spokeswoman from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has said in a statement: “Criminal prosecution for defamation has a chilling effect on freedom of the press, and international standards are clear that imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty for defamation”.

“The criminal charges against Mr Morison and Ms Chutima could have serious implications on Phuketwan’s future operations, possibly compromising its ability to report on issues related to Rohingya asylum seekers to the public,” she said.

Morison has said: ‘‘This is a clear issue of freedom of media and the military exceeding its role in using an onerous law unjustly.”

In its latest report, Reporters Without Borders noted that Thailand enjoys more press freedom than most of its Southeast Asian neighbours (only Brunei ranks higher – 122nd – in the index) – except when reporting on the monarchy.

Cartoon published by The Nation

Cartoon published by The Nation

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