PHUKET: Phuketwan journalist Chutima Sidasathian made a plea at the University of Sydney today for a democratic Thailand to commit to media freedom.
Thailand was adrift from the truth, she said, with the Royal Thai Navy seeking to punish two Phuketwan journalists using the much criticised Computer Crimes Act and criminal defamation.
She and Australian journalist Alan Morison face up to seven years in jail for republishing just one paragraph from a Reuters special report series that last week won journalism's highest accolade, a Pulitzer Prize.
Reuters has not been charged and has yet to defend the Phuketwan journalists or its paragraph.
The International Conference on Thai Studies is held every three years, hosted either by a Thai university or by a university outside of Thailand where there is an interest in Thai studies.
The three-day conference celebrates the University of Sydney's long-standing connection with Thailand. Ms Chutima is also due to speak at the Melbourne Press Club on April 29.
Here is the plea that Ms Chutima made today in Sydney:
THE AUTHOR George Orwell wrote: ''The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.''
Today the country I love with all my heart, Thailand, is adrift from the truth, just as surely as Rohingya boatpeople drift from persecution in Burma.
Last week I spent time in a cell under Phuket Provincial Court. Soon my trial begins for daring to report what is happening in Thailand to the Rohingya.
My Australian colleague, Alan Morison, faces the same penalty. To those of you who believe Thailand is growing as a democracy, we say: think again.
In democracies, the military does not sue the media. Our crime was to republish one paragraph from a Reuters report.
By strange coincidence, in the week we spent time in the cells, Reuters won the Pulitzer prize for its coverage of the Rohingya issue.
We wish Reuters would now defend its paragraph and speak out on our behalf.
We also wish the Royal Thai Navy would reconsider using undemocratic laws to silence the media.
The 30th anniversary of World Media Freedom Day falls on May 3.
I call upon my Government to celebrate the occasion, to drop this case, and to prove to everyone that Thailand still believes in truth and freedom.
Khun Chutima is also due to speak at the Melbourne Press Club on April 29. Speaking trips to Japan and Europe are being planned.
Ms Chutima shared the 2010 Society of Publishers in Asia Excellence in Investigative Reporting and Excellence in Human Rights Reporting awards. In 2009 she shared the Scoop of the Year at the Hong Kong News Awards and the general news prize at the Human Rights Press Awards in Hong Kong.
Phuketwan is marking the 30-day countdown to the 30th anniversary of World Media Freedom Day on May 3 with news outlets around the world.