Open Letter from Phuketwan Journalists
To The Chief of Defence Forces, Thailand,
General Thanasak Patimaprakorn
cc Commander-in-Chief, Royal Thai Navy,
Admiral Narong Pipattanasai
Dear General Thanasak,
WE understand that you are probably distracted by the issue of what constitutes a democracy in Thailand right now. For different reasons, we are also asking how democracy works in Thailand, and whether you believe democracy involves a free media.
Are you aware that a captain based on the Andaman coast has taken the unusual step of suing two journalists, not just as an individual but on behalf of the entire Royal Thai Navy? He is also, we are led to believe, suing the Reuters news agency and two of their journalists.
As far as we can tell, this is the first time a member of Thailand's military forces has used criminal defamation and the contentious Computer Crimes Act to sue reporters.
Is it your intention to support this action, involving the use of what are generally considered to be bad laws?
Are you prepared to let this captain and other officers sue in future on behalf of the entire Royal Thai Navy or other arms of the military? Do all officers in the armed forces agree with this process?
We should point out that members of the military suing the media is not considered to be appropriate action in democracies. We should also point out that there has been a substantial outcry over this innovative case.
The actions of the captain have been condemned by the United Nations human rights chief, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Southeast Asian Press Alliance, the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand, the Thai Journalists' Association, the Bangkok Post, the Nation and Australia's Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance.
Instead of suing the media, the captain could have telephoned the journalists involved and told them that he disagreed with the article. He could have asked his commanding officer to organise a media conference to explain the facts, or organised for a press release to be issued. In a democracy, these would be the appropriate alternatives.
As the two journalists involved have said they will go to jail in protest for the principle of media freedom rather than face court on these trumped-up charges, the reputation of the entire Royal Thai Navy is now on the line.
Is it your intention to allow this precedent-setting case to go ahead? Do you intend to allow any officer in the Thai military to sue any journalists at any time, using criminal defamation and the Computer Crimes Act, or any other law?
We would be grateful for your prompt response.
Reporters Prepared for Prison:
The Full Cartoon from The Nation: