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Artist Stepff celebrates the unusual win by the Phuket journalists

Journalist Alan Morison And Colleague Acquitted of Defaming Thai Navy

Tuesday, September 1, 2015
PHUKET: Veteran Australian journalist Alan Morison and his Thai colleague Chutima Sidasathian have been acquitted on charges of defaming the Royal Thai Navy in a case that will have far-reaching consequences for the media in military-run Thailand.

Morison, 67, said the ruling delivered to a packed court on the Thai resort island of Phuket "sends a clear message from Thailand's judicial system that Thailand's media should be free".

"We hope it is sign of Thailand's growing maturity and that the media and military can live side by side," he said.

Morison and Chutima, 34, had faced up to seven years' jail on unprecedented charges brought by the Thai navy.

Chutima collapsed into the arms of her mother when a judge announced the verdict.

Two judges ruled that Morison and Chutima had no intention to damage Thailand's reputation in the story they published in 2013 on Phuketwan, a small online news website.

They said the information they published came from Reuters, a reliable news organisation, and was not their own.

Morison, a former senior editor of The Age, has been spending his life's savings publishing Phuketwan, which has led coverage of the plight of Rohingyas from Myanmar who have been described by the United Nations as among the world's most persecuted people.

Mark Plunkett, a Brisbane barrister who observed the trial for Australia's MEAA union, said the court is to be congratulated for arriving at a just result on the merits of the case.

"However, Thailand's defamation and Computer Crime Act laws must be repealed as they constitute a hideous threat to freedom of speech and democracy in Thailand," he said.

The controversial trial came amid dramatic revelations of a grim people smuggling trade across South-east Asia where people were abandoned at sea and in jungle death camps by traffickers.

Images of starving and distressed Rohingyas on boats in the region's waters shocked the world, prompting a Thai crackdown and eventually forcing South-east Asian governments to act together to end the trade.

More than 100 people were arrested, including senior Thai officials.
The charges related to a single paragraph re-published in Phuketwan from a Reuters report that subsequently won a Pulitzer prize, the world's top journalism award.

But the Royal Thai Navy only laid charges over the Phuketwan re-publication, prompting criticism that it had singled out a small independent news outlet.

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

Reuters, one of the world's largest media and information companies, distanced itself from the case.

Prosecution witnesses gave no explanation in court as to why only Phuketwan was charged.

Defence lawyers argued in court that the Reuters paragraph quoting a people smuggler saying "Thai naval forces" sometimes earned money or turned a blind eye to Rohingya boats did not name the Royal Thai Navy and that there were multiple naval forces in Thailand, including the coastguard and police.

That argument went uncontested in court.

In the indictment the words "Thai naval forces" was erroneously translated into "Royal Thai Navy", the court was told.

Defence lawyers also questioned whether a branch of the armed forces could sue for defamation when no individuals were identified as being aggrieved by the story.

They also argued the Computer Crimes Act should not be applied in defamation cases.

Morison and Chutima earlier this year sent a letter to Thai authorities expressing "deep regret" at what had transpired but insisted an apology was not warranted.

"We had no intention of apologising for something that we haven't done," Morison said. "This was a matter of important principle. This case was wrong from the beginning, with one or two officers acting on bad advice."

Morison could have left Thailand to avoid the trial but said he had stayed to fight the case with Chutima in the interests of media freedom.

After the verdict, Morison said he would consider the future of Phuketwan in the coming days. "Fighting the case has been a huge financial and personal burden," he said.

Phil Robertson, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, said: "This whole episode shows a fundamental lack of understanding among Thai government and military officials about what a free press is really about and the role it plays in democratic society.

"Thailand needs to revoke both its criminal defamation statute and the Computer Crimes Act to end this assault on media freedom."

Kingsley Abbott, from the International Commission of Jurists, said while the acquittals are very welcome, "Thailand must now move to abolish criminal defamation, which is an abuse of freedom of expression and is out of line with its international legal obligations".

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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Great news indeed!!!

Let's hope they will not file an appeal - it probably will be known during first 10 days of October.

It would be really great if full text of verdict is published here, to see full argumentation of the (courageous, yes) judges, and that may help other people in similar situations to use that argumentation.

P.S. My understanding was that recently finally criminal charges were brought against Reuters? If so,let's them go through all this,especially as they put that PW 41-words paragraph was not original their text,let's they spend some resources on defending their case, and,please, without reference to PW trial outcome.

Posted by Sue on September 1, 2015 15:33

Editor Comment:

We believe no charges are likely to be laid against Reuters.

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Congratulations on a gruelling agonising couple of years.

Posted by Tbs on September 1, 2015 15:33

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Relieved! Justice! I don't believe any previous courtaction / trial has ever damaged the reputation of Thailans so much. Congratulations Chutima & Alan. You deserve it together with a huge break.

Posted by phuketgreed on September 1, 2015 15:52

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Goodonya to you both..better man/lady Than I am..
Let us hope there is nothing like the Andy Hall 'appeal' and retrial forthcoming.

Posted by david on September 1, 2015 15:55

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Dear Ed

How sweet it is.

Any news yet on whether the Royal Thai Navy will be extending an apology to the two of you?

Cheers
Ian

Posted by Ian Yarwood on September 1, 2015 16:28

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Hmm last comment got lost..anyways congrats..better man and lady than I am.

I think that some people with power, influence and guts should nominate yourself and Chutima for the Nobel peace Prize and ensure you are awarded!
Would it not be a smack in the eye for Reuters and their mostly self awarded Pulitzer?

Posted by david on September 1, 2015 16:29

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Congratulations Alan and Chutima on an excellent result.

Posted by Phil on September 1, 2015 16:52

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I am feeling happpier on this 1 st september... almost a glimpse of hope in my day. But the case made me think all these months about truth and defamation. If you are a seller who was abused by a buyer you can't on the internet point at the buyer and detail their abusing techniques against you, even if you do so in order to avoid new abuses from other buyers; indeed the consumers, even wrongdoers are protected against defamation. I am really happy for both of you.

Posted by ouf on September 1, 2015 16:55

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Congratulations Alan and Chutima. Very pleased to here that sanity prevailed.

Posted by Goggasmom on September 1, 2015 17:07

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Absolutely brilliant and a poke in the eye for all those Thaivisa "experts" who "knew" you would lose.

Congratulations - have a few glasses of bubbly!

Posted by Smithy on September 1, 2015 17:18

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Congratulations - justice seen to be done for a change. It would be nice if Reuters passed over the Pulitzer prize to Phuketwan.

Posted by Pete on September 1, 2015 17:22

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Congratulations to you and especially to Khun Chutima

Posted by Guenter Bellach on September 1, 2015 17:22

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In the name of decency, this was the only obvious end to this farce.
Congratulations to you, Chutima and Alan.

Posted by OJ on September 1, 2015 17:25

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Congratulations on a just ruling in a case which should never have made it to court.

Posted by Shane on September 1, 2015 18:14

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Well Done...

Pleased for you both...

Posted by robert smith on September 1, 2015 18:21

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That is a GREAT news, congratulations to both of you. Could not find the time to assist the verdict but just back home reading the news. Perhaps people who like PhuketWan should start "funding" and helping them support some costs, it would be a shame to see it stopping its activities. How to do such a funding ?

Posted by Phuket119 on September 1, 2015 18:38

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I am so pleased for you both what a relief.please don't give up phuketwan you do such a great job.

Posted by Monica on September 1, 2015 18:49

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Common sense prevailed and after the prosecutor failed to turn up the case was done and dusted. Only interference could have led to another verdict and it's good to see the court was free from bias.

Posted by Arun Muruga on September 1, 2015 19:06

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Just opened my internet:

A VERY BIG CONGRATULATIONS to you both. Sanity has won through the judicial system for all to see.

Posted by Logic on September 1, 2015 19:11

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Well done Alan and Khun Chutima, let's hope the outcome has an positive effect on the cause that led to all of this, that of the Rohinhgya people

Posted by Marty on September 1, 2015 19:13

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Congratulations! The case should never have been launched. In doing so, the Thai Navy has damaged its own reputation very badly - especially as it went after a rather small operation rather than the original publisher, Reuters.

Why do you not have a donations page? Not just to help pay the costs of this case, but to help and promote free press in Thailand ?

Posted by Carl on September 1, 2015 20:14

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Now, that's a miracle. Something like beating a normal hand of four kings and an ace with four aces and a king. You two showed tremendous courage by seeing things all the way through. To face off against the Thai navy in a Thai court with a prison sentence on the line is certainly a daunting task. You're better people than I am, that's for sure. Kudos to all who helped you, also. I'm still shaking my head in disbelief.

Posted by Day on September 1, 2015 20:30

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My sincerest congratulations to the both of you!

Posted by Hans Forssell on September 1, 2015 20:37

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Congratulations Alan & Chutima and well done, Thai judicial system. The outcome was the right one.

Posted by Paradise on September 1, 2015 21:02

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BTW that TV therad with above of 100 0posts, has been closed - actually, some serial neurotic trolls got today some serious constipation.

Before they closed that down they admitted that PW is their first choice of news.

Actually, they helped to some degree to promote the site, thus to promote an awareness of the case.

Posted by Sue on September 1, 2015 21:06

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Good News!

Posted by ian on September 1, 2015 21:34

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The only possible verdict in such a clear-cut case and with the world looking on. Congratulations.

Posted by SteveM on September 1, 2015 21:49

Editor Comment:

Thank you, old friend.

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Congratulations to the two journalists of course and respect to the Thai court for the maturity and justice of its decision.

Posted by Rais on September 1, 2015 22:07

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"It would be nice if Reuters passed over the Pulitzer prize to Phuketwan."

Their silence will be deafening, but it will show the true colors of Reuters once more - not that we need a second lesson in regards to their lack of moral credibility.

Posted by farang888 on September 1, 2015 22:56

Editor Comment:

Reuters is all about producing great journalism, but that certainly should be supported by the highest ethical standards. Every organisation that reproduces Reuters, clients or not, really needs reassuring now. If we had given in and said ''sorry'' for reproducing a Reuters paragraph, would Reuters have been happy? I don't think so. Reuters may still not even appreciate the favor we have done them in defending their words. All we hear is talk of one Reuters journalist telling other journalists to ''be careful what you write.'' Perhaps vanity is the problem.

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That was a victory for Thailand. A big one for you personally, for Phuketwan, as the stakes were highest, but also a small victory for a better future in Thailand, on its way to real checks and balances, and no funny stuff getting in the way of decent fact reading and reporting as it happens. I think even the RTN won as an institution in the long run, as this verdict will keep the becoming the better navy Thailand deserves to have.
The only looser is Reuters. They just suck.

Posted by Lena on September 1, 2015 23:01

Editor Comment:

We have no problems with the Royal Thai Navy. It's a wonderful organisation. One or two officers just took some bad advice, that's all. Reuters . . . well, how disappointing. Defenders of freedom or defenders of the brand? I think the corporate side still has to prove it appreciates and understands the ''courage'' of all journalists.

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Great news indeed

And Ian don't think that will happen with all the loss of face behind the scenes

Posted by michael on September 1, 2015 23:55

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Long live Phuketwan, this calls for a Toast!

Deepak
Bangalore

Posted by Deepak on September 2, 2015 01:19

Editor Comment:

Thank you, Deepak.

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Congratulations to you both. May this be the beginning to a bright future and more progress for Phuketwan.

Posted by Donald Jackson on September 2, 2015 02:09

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Hearty congratulations to both of you. Your courage to press for your acquittal in the face of preposterous intimidation was fantastic. This story has galvanised world opinion regarding the Thai judicial process. Congrats too to the judges who came to the correct decision. As for Reuters...their silence has been deafening. Congrats to both of you.

Posted by Anonymous on September 2, 2015 05:21

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Congratulations to you both. You both showed great courage to stand up for what you believe, in the face of a system that had to prove itself. Alan you could easily have run away but showed fortitude and stood firm. You stated Thailand is your home now and have contributed greatly to assist the process of law to show it can be just. Phuketwan is my first stop to keep up to date on ll the news in my "second home". Sure hope you can find a way to continue. Maybe a donation model as used on some sites, or even crowd funding. I am no guru in these matters but there needs to be a way.

Posted by Davemc60 on September 2, 2015 06:36

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I don't profess to know about Thai law, but can you claim or the court order the plaintiff(s)to pay the costs involved in the case?

Posted by Pete on September 2, 2015 07:11

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I am very happy for both of you

Posted by Paul on September 2, 2015 10:05

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Congratulations to all of Phuket Wan's staff especially to the brave journalists who faced justice and received justice in court.

Posted by Anonymous on September 2, 2015 12:04

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Whilst the verdict will be a welcome one for you both maybe it is better to accept victory and not poke a stick at the navy again.

Whilst you will say the cartoon at the top of this post is just satirical best to accept this judgement with dignity and lower the profile for a while instead of taunting the tiger. After all it was only one phrase that created the original hot water- lampooning the Navy may not be the best of fresh starts.

Posted by Mister ree on September 2, 2015 16:05

Editor Comment:

I guess you see the world in terms of people ''poking sticks'' at each other, MR. How quaint. The right of satirists and cartoonists to see the news of the day as they wish is fairly plain. Our relationship with the Royal Thai Navy is very good. I would suggest that, if you wish to dictate our editorial policy, you make an offer to become publisher.

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Congratulations!
A win for you two and a big win for Phuketwan-readers!
Keep up your great work!

Posted by herbert on September 2, 2015 16:31

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Congratulations Alan and Chutima, I am extremely Happy for this outcome. It will result in a big change between the Media and the Thai Government.

Posted by MJ on September 2, 2015 20:24


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