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Police  Pursuing  Case Against Reuters

Police Pursuing Case Against Reuters

Thursday, March 20, 2014
PHUKET: Summonses alleging criminal defamation and a breach of Thailand's Computer Crimes Act are about to be issued against the international news agency Reuters and two of its reporters, a police superintendent said on Phuket today.

Two Phuketwan reporters and Big Island Media, the Phuket online news magazine's parent company, already face similar charges, laid by a captain on behalf of the Royal Thai Navy.

The Phuket Prosecutor's office has been ordered to work with police on the Reuters case by a senior prosecutor in Bangkok, the Superintendent of Phuket's Vichit Police Station, Colonel Chaowalit Peachsriper, said today.

''Officers have to work with the Phuket Prosecutor because Reuters has its headquarters overseas,'' Colonel Chaowalit said. ''Summonses will soon be issued to Reuters and the authors of the July 17 report.''

The authors will be told they must report to Vichit Police Station on a specific date, the colonel said. ''We have not had any reaction from Reuters yet,'' he added.

Earlier this month, the International Federation of Journalists, which represents 600,000 journalists around the world, called on Thailand's Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, to end the Royal Thai Navy's misguided prosecution of the two Phuket journalists.

The action against Phuketwan, initiated by Captain Panlob Komtonlok of Royal Thai Navy 3, which oversees the Andaman Sea coast, has been roundly condemned by the United Nations' Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, the New-York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, and other rights groups.

A street protest has already been staged in the centre of Melbourne, Australia. The action against Reuters is likely to bring a fresh round of worldwide criticism of the Royal Thai Navy.

It's the first time the military in Thailand has used the iniquitous criminal defamation law and the contentious Computer Crimes Act against the media.

The editor of Phuketwan, Alan Morison, who faces charges with reporter Chutima Sidasathian, says the appropriate alternative in a democracy would have been for the Royal Thai Navy to telephone Phuketwan and Reuters, or to hold a media conference to express its own viewpoint.

''This is a trumped up charge designed to close down media coverage of the exodus of the Rohingya boat people from Burma,'' Morison said today. ''We will not be silenced.''

The Royal Thai Navy was a good organisation, Morison said, and deserved praise for rescuing stranded tourists, for helping to restore endangered turtles to the Phuket region, and for rebuilding villages after the 2004 tsunami.

''Sadly, the Royal Thai Navy has been badly advised by one or two people in taking this matter to court using laws that have been condemned by many rights bodies,'' Morison said.

''If this action proceeds, the reputation of the Royal Thai Navy will suffer immeasurable damage.''

Morison said he welcomed an honest and frank explanation from the Royal Thai Navy that fully related the truth about the way Rohingya boatpeople were treated at sea and inside Thailand.

''The Navy should be keen to explain to all the citizens of Thailand what their policy is regarding the Rohingya and how many human traffickers they have apprehended recently,'' Morison said.

''This action is likely to trigger greater interest in the Rohingya boatpeople, which is a good thing. But Thailand's reputation as a democracy is bound to suffer because of the Navy's undemocratic approach. It's a big mistake.''

Both prosecutions centre on one paragraph from a Reuters special report on the Rohingya, which Phuketwan republished.

The paragraph has been poorly translated from English into Thai for the court documents, Morison says, and several Thai news outlets that also published poorly translated versions have not been sued.

*In an earlier report, Colonel Chaowalit was quoted as saying summonses had been issued for Reuters. When Phuketwan called back to check, the colonel said officers were meeting with the Phuket prosecutor tomorrow before issuing summonses.


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