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Crusading Phuketwan Website Shuts Down as Journalists Face Thai Court

Sunday, July 12, 2015
SYDNEY: Australian journalist Alan Morison has been forced to shut down his crusading news website in Thailand as he and a Thai colleague face trial on serious criminal charges on Tuesday.

The award-winning Phuketwan site has led reporting on the plight of Rohingya in Myanmar, who have been described by the United Nations as among the world's most persecuted people.

Morison, 67, has announced that Phuketwan will close this week and may never resume because of uncertainty over unprecedented criminal defamation charges brought against him and colleague Chutima Sidasathian by the Royal Thai Navy.

"We feel committed to make a stance for a free media in Thailand," Morison said.

"We are content to leave the decision to Thai justice, although some people have concerns about the potential for a negative outcome," he said.

"This case was wrong from the beginning, with one or two officers acting on bad advice."

Morison, a former senior Age editor, and Chutima face up to seven years' jail on charges that relate to a single paragraph republished in Phuketwan in July 2013 from a Reuters report on Rohingya refugees.

Reuters subsequently won a Pulitzer prize for its reporting on Rohingya that included the paragraph.

But the Royal Thai Navy only laid charges over the Phuketwan republication, prompting widespread criticism that it has singled out a small independent news outlet that had broken numerous stories on the plight of the Rohingya over seven years.

Morison's Phuketwan website led reporting on people trafficking through Thailand.

Chutima had worked as a paid fixer for Reuters on its Rohingya coverage and introduced Reuters reporters to news sources.

Morison and Chutima recently sent a letter to Thai authorities expressing "deep regret" at what had transpired but insist an apology is not warranted.

"We have no intention of apologising for something that we haven't done," Morison said. "This is a matter of important principle."

Eight human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty, and journalist groups last week appealed to Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to drop the charges, saying in a joint letter the legal action threatens the right to freedom of opinion and expression that is supposed to be the bedrock of Thailand's democratic society.

They said the use of the Computer Crime Act in the case was particularly troubling because it was the first time that one of Thailand's armed services had used it against journalists.

The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), which represents Australian journalists, and the Federation of Journalists, which represents more than 600,000 journalists worldwide, have commissioned senior Brisbane barrister Mark Plunkett to observe the trial on the resort island of Phuket that is expected to be held over three days.

A verdict is expected in about a month.

Media organisations and human rights groups say there has been a steady decline in press freedom in Thailand since the country's army, then led by Mr Prayuth, staged a coup to topple Thailand's democratically-elected government in May last year.

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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i want to say " this cant be real" but that would be guesswork and not permitted in PW.. so therefore i say --- welcome to Thailand.... but as u always tell Mr Morrison, dont be a doomsayer....

Posted by frog on July 12, 2015 13:10

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expressing deep regret but no apology?

Posted by FS on July 12, 2015 13:25

Editor Comment:

Deep regret for what has transpired, FS: Deep regret for the damage done to Thailand's reputation by this misguided prosecution.

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It will be a sad day if the website has to shut down. There are not many places to read informative, and interesting articles not watered down for the sake of the authorities.

With regards to the Thai authorities, I'm afraid to say the country has a long way to go. It's view is very backward, and it maybe years before it adopts values more common in civilised countries.

In particular, it's view on foreigners must also change. The xenophobic legislation is quite unacceptable in the 21st century, and again in most cases, would be outlawed elsewhere.

If it is decided to punish these journalists, then the repercussions will be severe for the country.

Thailand can either turn the clock back, or accept that some things must change. I hope they choose the latter.

I wish you the very best of luck at the trial !

Posted by reader on July 12, 2015 13:43

Editor Comment:

Thanks, reader

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Sad to hear you might close permanently.
Really sad part is the great support you have given to the Thai Navy over the years and this is your reward.

Posted by Arthur on July 12, 2015 13:53

Editor Comment:

Indeed. We have always supported the Royal Thai Navy but one or two misguided officers have struggled to translate our stories successfully.

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Alan,
Hopefully, we will see you again when this is over. All the best for this week and may the result be both fair and just.

Posted by MoW on July 12, 2015 14:13

Editor Comment:

Thanks, MoW. PW could be going cheap!

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Phuketwan has nothing to fear closure because of trial outcome unless running costs outpace revenues. Seems to me an overstatement for sensibilizing readers whose comments have many times biased by an arrogant editor. Karma Mr Alan Morrison. The law of karma. What you express in actions and thoughts sooner or later come back to you. Your (moderate) way of winning over debates by ostracism, got you the way round this time. Som nam naa Mr editor. Som nam naa. And have the bullocks to publish this if u have guts without yr (moderate) way of winning. Good luck to PW anyway: more insight articles and less Mr God around would be a good start.

Posted by sandro on July 12, 2015 15:26

Editor Comment:

That's funny, sandro, because people who know me would say I don't have an ego and I'm not arrogant. But I do have a disliking for commenters who think they know everything and hate to have their intemperate, blockheaded views challenged.

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At Alan And Chutima, all the best. May , reason, logic & justice preveal. And i hope you will be free and feel unchased soon again. And I hope Phuketwan will stay. It is for me the best newssite in this country.

Posted by phuketgreed on July 12, 2015 16:06

Editor Comment:

Wow . . . praise indeed. Many thanks, phuketgreed.

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good luck with the trial...

Posted by another steve on July 12, 2015 16:23

Editor Comment:

thanks, another steve.

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So why would the news website have to be closed down? Do you mean it will not be accessible on the web any more or just not updated by yourself?

The information on this website is relevant and needs to be shown to the world, even if the trial goes awry for you.

Good luck

Posted by Tbs on July 12, 2015 17:04

Editor Comment:

The editor of the site is going on trial. That means he won't be able to continue working seven days a week, from 5am to 11pm. the flow of stories will stop. In any event, it's been his life savings paying for the site. That's a slightly flawed business model.

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The plaintiff seems to have won a battle by the shutting down of PW, but the war is not yet over. Wishing Alan and Chutima all the best this week and hoping common sense and justice prevail.

Posted by Treelover on July 12, 2015 17:39

Editor Comment:

Many thanks, treelover. We will see what happens next.

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Morison, 67, has announced that Phuketwan will close this week and may never resume because of...

I sincerely hope this is not the end of Phuket Wan.

I wish you both all the best & for the successful closure to this sad case as you deserve next week.

See you soon back on line.

Posted by Logic on July 12, 2015 17:58

Editor Comment:

Thanks, Logic. Let's hope that's the case.

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We have had our differences but I can only wish you both a just and speedy end to this horrid ordeal.

Posted by Ken Freed on July 12, 2015 18:22

Editor Comment:

Many thanks, Ken.

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Ed

Why don't you ask Sue to run the site during the trial, that should make for some interesting reading ! :-)

Posted by Discover Thainess on July 12, 2015 20:52

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My wife and I have enjoyed our annual visits to Thailand in general and Phuket in particular for some 35 years now. It is sad to see the idea being reinforced that the best way to deal with problems is to conceal them, and by seeking to punish those who bring them to light. We have kept up with Phuket through your website for the very reason it is under pressure.....we rely on you to shine the torch in dark corners. We love Thailand, and the country should understand that, to move forward, it needs people that speak truth to power, Thai or foreigner.

Good luck. Hope to see you back soon.

Posted by Anonymous on July 12, 2015 21:38

Editor Comment:

Thanks for your kind words.

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The alternative to admitting they were wrong is to force you to shut down and leave the country. Or they will just block it like Daily Mail.

Posted by rc on July 12, 2015 22:12

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Terrible news about Phuketwan.

Mark Plunkett's reporting is first class as evidenced by the report he wrote for the Andy Hall trial of September 2014.

Ian Yarwood
Solicitor - Perth, Australia

Posted by Ian Yarwood on July 12, 2015 22:20

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Best wishes Alan on unjust allegations - truth should prevail, but we'll all see soon if common sense prevails and justice happens for you, Chutima and by extension ALL OF US..

The world is watching now with bated breath.

That you spent most of your money on this website shows your true colors - good colors too.

Dean

Posted by farang888 on July 12, 2015 23:29

Editor Comment:

Thanks, Dean.

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DT,
Don't you think miss trans lation has caused enough issues already

Posted by MoW on July 12, 2015 23:51

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You folks will be back, well that's my feelig at this moment!

Posted by Deepak on July 13, 2015 01:00

Editor Comment:

Thanks, Deepak.

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Good Luck Alan, hope this matter is resolved quickly and in your favor.

Posted by pete59 on July 13, 2015 05:00

Editor Comment:

Thanks, pete.

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Good luck in court tomorrow Alan and Oi. Let's hope the verdict is a win for justice, common sense and the freedom of the press to cover the big stories.

Posted by TC on July 13, 2015 05:41

Editor Comment:

Thanks, TC.

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Best wishes - I love PW and the work you do. You will prevail and be back ! We want you and need you as so does Thailand

Posted by Anonymous on July 13, 2015 06:20

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Good luck Alan and Khun Chutima

I see there is a story on news.com.au about you this morning. It highlights that the Phuket jail is much worse than anything Peter Greste has to put up with in Egypt. Tha should grab extra attention.

Good luck again!

Posted by Frank on July 13, 2015 08:20

Editor Comment:

Thanks, Frank.

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Best wishes to you both! You have done a great deal to promote an unbiased view on local happenings and given some smaller organisations a voice and an identity. Reason will prevail!

Posted by Safety First on July 13, 2015 09:13

Editor Comment:

thanks, safety.

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Wish you both good luck and all the best for continuing your work in future.
Lots people here and also in Switzerland are
watching closely this farce... i mean this case.

Posted by NoKool on July 13, 2015 13:02

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be a horrible loss this independent news site let alone the future of the journalists over a storm created in a tea cup for whatever purpose its deemed to serve may common sense prevail that this is a trivial nonsense and the charges dismissed.

Posted by slickmelb on July 13, 2015 15:42

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To Alan and K Chutima and Phuket Wan and Blue Sky. I hope you can win this case for the freedom of all press freedom world wide.
The eyes of the world are watching you Thailand. Do good and good and peace shall return.
"At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them"." Fight on true heroes.

Posted by Graham M"m on July 13, 2015 16:06

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All the Best !

Posted by Tony on July 13, 2015 18:30

Editor Comment:

Thank you Tony.

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another sad day for freedom of speech in Thailand

Posted by mike on July 13, 2015 21:51

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All the best over the coming days and weeks.
Can only hope sanity will prevail.

Posted by Andrew Keir on July 14, 2015 05:10

Editor Comment:

Thanks, Andrew.

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I have made a number of comments over the past year or so and in particular in respect of "the beach clean up", sunbeds umbrellas jetskis etc.. I have often not agreed with the editors remarks and have said so. Sometimes I have not been happy with his response. I have even felt offended at times. Nevertheless we are adults and an exchange of views and debate is a grown up thing to do. It seems the authorities are not capable of this maturity when it comes to reporting matters they do not want aired.

I send my best wishes for a good outcome and for sanity, common sense and maturity to prevail.

Richard

Posted by Richard on July 14, 2015 18:21

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White supremacy will not be tolerated in Asia! Not from your terrorist western policing agencies or your conspiracy to demonized Asians to loot and oppress Asian people!

Posted by White pig go home! on July 15, 2015 13:58

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Good luck Alan.

I hope things go your way.

I enjoyed the brief time I spent working for/with you.

And your site has been a real zinger of Phuket news.

I will say a prayer to the newspaper gods!

Posted by Steven King on July 15, 2015 19:16

Editor Comment:

Thanks, Steven.

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White Pig Go Home,
Im sure you feel superior being the smartest one in your cell?

Posted by MoW on July 15, 2015 20:16

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Hi Alan,
Information about the progress of your trial has been quite limited but today's report of the prosecutor being absent was an interesting twist. Hope all is well.

Posted by MoW on July 15, 2015 21:56

Editor Comment:

Thursday's surprise witnesses deserve a hearing. It will be sad if the media is not there. We may have a huge exclusive just for Phuketwan.

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Good luck to you both in this misdirected case. And may Phutetwan prosper as the only in-touch web-site not (yet) blocked in Thailand.

Posted by Sam Wilko on July 15, 2015 22:43

Editor Comment:

Thanks, Sam.

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Best of luck Alan and Oi. Keeping my fingers crossed for you. Utterly unjust charges and a frightening threat to press freedom.

Posted by Alasdair Forbes on July 16, 2015 12:36

Editor Comment:

Thanks, Alasdair.

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MoW

only the one expecting to get paper rolled over just in front of his eyes in order then to be read aloud, can complain that there is a "limited" information about the progress of the trial:

e.g. South East Asian Press Alliance (SEPA) publish daily detailed account of hearings,

http://www.seapa.org/?p=11188
http://www.seapa.org/?p=11195

Some people like Andy Hall, but not only, made almost real-time updates on FB and TW, so indeed the coverage may seems to be "limited" for those who falls short of adopting a use of such tools.

Posted by Sue on July 16, 2015 14:25

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Sue,
I probably look Into the detail more than just someone else's overview but as they say, 'each to their own'.

But my time wasn't wasted as I have been practicing baking cakes with internal files and a small hacksaw just as a back up plan. I hope you like chocolate Alan.

Posted by MoW on July 16, 2015 16:50

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MoW

Is the language you just used to writte your very last post here, the new Sydney CBD slang?
Obviously, I have to manage to catch with newest developments of Australian urban English in order not to mix up with PNG Pidgin - my dream country to visit, but may be that slang borrowed something from Pidgin, it would be then double as helpful.

Posted by Sue on July 16, 2015 20:03

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"Why are you not getting the full story when it comes to the Rohingya? "

http://bit.ly/1CES4uy

While images of the suffering of Rohingya migrants circulated around the world, local journalists and politicians have faced restrictions in trying to report on and speak out on the issue.

By IFEX - the global network defending and promoting free expression

19.06.2015.

Posted by Sue on July 16, 2015 23:01

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MoW,

if you have missed reporting that was the Khao Dtom that has delivered a real bust of energy for every trial session, it is here, as well as a summary of major developments during 3 days of hearings:

http://goo.gl/OhByHQ

Posted by Sue on July 16, 2015 23:13

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it is a sad day for thai press freedom that thai military authorities are trying to muzzle the truth. thailands image is hurt by such unnecessary controversies....

Posted by javed mushtaq on July 16, 2015 23:44

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Ed,

have you seen youself on this picture

https://twitter.com/stephffart/status/620759730135281664

by @stephffart ? Every stakeholder is in the view..

Posted by Sue on July 17, 2015 15:15

Editor Comment:

Stephff gets it exactly right again.

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Sue,
You must be thrilled about being included in the same picture. I assumed that is you strapped to the rear and throughout, still managing a fine balancing act to retain possession of your scales

Posted by MoW on July 18, 2015 05:18

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"When reporting a criminal offence is a crime, you are being run by criminals"
Tweet from Julian Burnside AO QC
22 July 2015

Rings true in many situations whether in Australia or abroad.

Ian Yarwood
Solicitor - Perth

Posted by Ian Yarwood on July 22, 2015 20:14

Editor Comment:

I am happy to open my bank book to scrutiny at any time and I am sure, to absolutely confirm their innocence, all Royal Thai Navy personnel would be, too.

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Really? you make me happy!

Posted by Theo on July 28, 2015 01:13

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Thailand is a free country, and freedom of information should be freely express without Fear of prosecution. Newsworthy should be freely offered to the public. The action should be didmissed.

Posted by Linda on August 4, 2015 08:20


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