Tourism News

Tourism News Phuketwan Tourism News
facebook recommendations

NEWS ALERTS

Sign up now for our News Alert emails and the latest breaking news plus new features.

Click to subscribe

Existing subscribers can unsubscribe here

RSS FEEDS

Reporters with supporters: Outside Phuket Provincial Court on Day Three

Prosecutors Skip Last Two Days of Phuketwan Trial: Verdict Due September 1

Saturday, July 18, 2015
PHUKET: The three-day trial of two English-language website journalists accused of defaming the Royal Thai Navy and violating the Computer Crimes Act was conducted in the absence of prosecutors representing the Royal Thai Navy on the second and third days.

As a result, the trial of Alan Morison, the Australian editor of the news website Phuketwan, and Chutima Sidasathian, one of his Thai reporters, ended at midday today [July 16] in the southwestern province of Phuket after the defence witnesses were heard.

The court is to issue its verdict on 1 September.

The absence of the prosecutors yesterday and today, for which no explanation was given, underscored the weakness of the prosecution's case. In their absence, Morison and Chutima were questioned by the presiding judge and the eight lawyers who flanked him.

''If the prosecutors could not be bothered to come and cross-examine the main defence witnesses, their flimsy arguments were clearly no match for what was a well-argued and solid defence,'' said Benjamin Ismail, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific Bureau, who attended the trial as an observer.

''As a result of the prosecution case's weakness, some of its points were not even raised by the president judge.''

During the trial, which has had a great deal of national and international media coverage, the two defendants have received support from Human Rights Watch, the South East Asia Press Alliance and the Bangkok office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Several NGOs also released an open letter to the prime minister, Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha, calling on the Royal Thai Navy to drop the charges.

The two journalists are facing up to seven years in prison as a result of what Morison has called an ''ambush'' by the authorities.

At the end of the first day of the trial, he nonetheless said he felt ''very positive'' and praised the defence team.

On the first day, the defence cross-examined the four prosecution witnesses about their evaluation of the July 2013 Phuketwan article that prompted the charges.

The article quoted a paragraph from a Reuters special report claiming that certain members of the Thai navy were benefiting from the smuggling of Rohingya refugees from neighboring Burma to Malaysia via Thailand.

The prosecution witnesses admitted that they had no problem with the Phuketwan article aside from the quote from the Reuters report, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2014 and which never led to charges being brought against Reuters by the Thai authorities.

The defence, which was very professional and effective in the presentation of its arguments, demonstrated that the identity of the persons who posted the article online could not be established with certainty. Identification is a requirement for a prosecution under the Computer Crimes Act.

The defence then pointed out that the term ''naval forces'' used in the Reuters report had been wrongly translated into Thai as ''Royal Thai Navy'' by the Royal Thai Navy's translator and that, as the Royal Thai Navy had not been named, it could not be held to have been defamed.

Yesterday, Morison and Chutima answered questions by the defence and the judge about their journalistic careers, Phuketwan's launch in 2008 and their coverage of the Rohingya refugees and the Thai Navy.

They pointed out that their coverage of the navy was far from negative and that Phuketwan has published many articles praising the humanitarian and environmental activities of the Royal Thai Navy in the south of the country.

They also pointed that Phuketwan published the statement that the Royal Thai Navy issued after the article, in which it denied any involvement in human trafficking. ''We had good relations with the navy before the case (...) and we still maintain a good relationship,'' Morison told the court.

en.rsf.org
Reporters Without Borders (RWB), or Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), is a France-based international non-profit, non-governmental organisation that promotes and defends freedom of information and freedom of the press. The organisation has consultant status at the United Nations.

Reporters Without Borders has two primary spheres of activity: one is focused on Internet Censorship and the New Media, and the other on providing material, financial and psychological assistance to journalists assigned to dangerous areas.

Essential Background


ALAN MORISON and Chutima Sidasathian remain on bail of 100,000 baht each, provided by the Andaman Community Rights and Legal Aid Centre, based in Trang province. Other groups and organisations have also offered financial help.

Most of the legal costs of the case are being met by the London-based Media Legal Defence Initiative.

In Thailand, a group of more than 10 lawyers have teamed up to provide legal counsel. They include SR Law, the Human Rights Lawyers' Association and iLaw.

WATCH Journey into Hell, by Four Corners
From Burma through Thailand, an award-winning current affairs team traces official complicity in the brutal treatment of the Rohingya and Phuketwan's part in its exposure.
http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2015/06/22/4257490.htm

WATCH How Trafficking Works
Phuketwan Investigative reporter Chutima Sidasathian, still being sued for criminal defamation over a Reuters paragraph: ''It's worse and worse, day by day. Nobody cares''.
http://journeyman.tv/67116/short-films/rohingya-hd.html

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

gravatar

Fantastic News. I am sure it will be a very Good end for Alan and Chutima in this case.

Congratulations

Posted by Mj on July 18, 2015 11:31

gravatar

Thanks for the Update! For some reasons i believe sunshine is coming back on the beaches of Phuket after a very dark and cloudy period.

Posted by phuketgreed on July 18, 2015 12:08

gravatar

I think any clear minded person knows what has happened with this ludicrous case. In a knee-jerk, face saving exercise, the Navy laid these charges expecting you to back down and apologize so they could have a perceived 'victory' and claim the moral high ground. Now the case has been presented in court, it's clear there is no case to answer. All we need to see now is if the court hands down a verdict based on the evidence.

Posted by Arun Muruga on July 18, 2015 13:35

gravatar

Dear Ed

As the self-appointed and perhaps unpopular "fact-check Nazi" I wish to state in writing that some reporting has been inaccurate including one sentence from the otherwise excellent media release of Reporters Without Borders.

The offending sentence is: "The article quoted a paragraph from a Reuters special report claiming that certain members of the Thai navy were benefiting from the smuggling of Rohingya refugees from neighbouring Burma to Malaysia via Thailand."

There was no such claim in the relevant paragraph. That was the crux of the defence if you like. To be more accurate it was the lack of such a claim that means it is open for the court to find that the Royal Thai Navy failed to make its case.

The rest of the story above is very good.

Ian Yarwood
Barrister & Solicitor
"Fact-check Nazi"
Perth, Australia

Posted by Ian Yarwood on July 18, 2015 13:57

gravatar

Excellent! I hope and pray that all will work out well. Although experience did teach me to expect the unexpected in Thailand.

Posted by Mr. K on July 18, 2015 14:28

gravatar

Seems like excellent news ! Still, it went much further than I ever expected so I am staying hopeful, rather than confident ... It looks good though ! (And the plight of the Rohingya got a lot of extra press coverage !)

Posted by James on July 18, 2015 16:50

gravatar

I think it is a little like showing disrespect for the court, if the prosecutor has better things to do with his/her time, but to come to court with a case he/her brought to the judge to use his/her time on. I am quite surprised. Nearly speechless.

Posted by Lena on July 18, 2015 18:19

gravatar

"Nearly speechless.."

I'm quite sure that Sue could assist you in that regard Lena..

Posted by farang888 on July 18, 2015 21:56

gravatar

I wonder what could be the face saving for the naval forces that the court ponders over? That because face saving is the only important matter in this case, not the international attention to it. Maybe it could be the wrong translation into thai? Ian Yarwood stated it, "there is no case". But how would the thai naval forces look internationally, if so? Being so stubborn, more than a year, when they already knew that weak base for the accusation of the journalists. Perhaps it rather could be the fact that the naval forces did not attempt to accuse the Reuters on the fact of the earnings by individuals of the trafficking. Could that be the face saving issue? In any case this case and the case of Natural Fruit against Andy Hall have both revealed the risk the thai government is taking by allowing prosecution of researchers and journalists. If the government is serious about the trafficking and other internationally observed wrongdoings of enterprises in the hands of politicians and colluding officials at many levels, the threat to the efforts to deal with the problems come from the effect the imprisonment of the messengers on the courage of those thais that try to implement the correct policies the government tries to pursue. The fact that the officers in the Southern provinces dared to bring the case of trafficking depended upon the publicity it got. Government must think twice about this persecution of the messengers. The morals of those officials who try to implement the correct policies of the government will be broken. That is the big issue. And hence the internationally community will not trust the seriousness behind the words of the government when it says it will tackle the problems of trafficking etc.

Posted by Bo Jonsson on July 19, 2015 08:49

gravatar

Normal is that the prosecutors are present in court all the time. Out of respect for Court, Judges, and the Accused. Prosecutors suppose to hear/witness the defence pleads. Well, that is the normal respect full way. Is it not?

Posted by Kurt on July 20, 2015 09:53

gravatar

Hi Bo Jonsson

I read your comment with interest.

Yes, I have stated that in Western Courts one would expect the defence barristers to make a submission of "No case to answer" at the conclusion of the prosecution's evidence.

I should stress that I was not alone with that opinion and other lawyers who sat through the prosecution's evidence expressed the same view. The Melbourne QC (Queen's Counsel) Julian Burnside agreed after reading details of the prosecution's evidence.

Ultimately of course it is up to the relevant court to agree with any submission of "No case to answer."

It seems that in Thailand the defence simply proceeds with its evidence even if it appears that the prosecution has not made out all the necessary elements of its case.

What can I say? Things are different in Thailand.

Ian Yarwood
Barrister & Solicitor
Perth, Western Australia

Posted by Ian Yarwood on July 20, 2015 18:55

gravatar

Hi Ed

It was certainly surprising for Western observers to see the prosecution counsel skip the last two days of the trial. It was particularly surprising for the Western lawyers.

I recall a brief interview between SBS journalist, Amos Roberts and the Brisbane barrister, Mark Plunkett outside the entrance to the court. Mark commented that in 34 years as a barrister he had never seen a case where the prosecution did not appear for the entire trial. I have certainly never seen nor heard of anything like this in Australia.

In contrast, the translator Khun Sinfah Tunsarawuth advised that it is not unusual in Thailand for prosecutors to miss part of their trials.

I have previously commented that in Thailand the courts appear to accept hearsay evidence. In Andy Hall's first trial the Natural Fruit Co screened a Channel 3 documentary. The people appearing in the documentary (read: propaganda film) did not give evidence on oath and could not be cross-examined.

In the Phuketwan case the "expert translator" from the Navy did not give evidence and was not available for cross-examination.

More comments to follow.

Ian Yarwood
Barrister & Solicitor
Perth, Australia

Posted by Ian Yarwood on July 22, 2015 10:24

gravatar

Hi Ed

The security in some Thai courts is unusual.

On 29 October 2014 I attended the Prakanong Court in Bangkok for the judgment in Andy Hall's first criminal defamation case. I entered through the entrance which was manned by security staff and handed them my driver's licence for a visitor's pass.

I left the court with another Australian and duly collected my driver's licence before leaving. I asked the other Australian if he had forgotten to pick up his "ID". He replied that when he entered the entrance was surrounded by a crowd of Andy's supporters trying to get in so he just walked through the unmanned exit door only about 4 metres away completely unchallenged.

The next day I attended the Nakhon Pathom Court (Bangkok) for something similar to a mediation conference in Andy's first civil defamation case. There was light security at the front door but anyone could walk in and out through an unmanned side door, which I did during the lunch break.

Posted by Ian Yarwood on July 22, 2015 10:57

gravatar

Dear Ed

Another striking feature of the law in Thailand relating to evidence is the apparent lack of an equivalent rule to the British common law rule known as the Rule in Browne v Dunn.

I will be happy to be corrected if an expert in Thai evidence is willing to do so.

Browne v Dunn was an extremely important decision from the British House of Lords in the 19th century. Interested readers can google the case to find plenty of information about it.

Pursuant to the rule barristers must put their client's case to opposing witnesses during cross-examination - if the opposing witness has not already addressed all contentious matters during examination-in-chief.

It is a rule that helps prevent "trial by ambush" and provides for greater fairness for all parties.

Here is a hypothetical example:

A plaintiff says he walked up to the front door of a certain house in Europe on a certain winter's day at precisely 6.00 pm then entered.

A witness for the defence subsequently gives evidence that he went past the same house at 6.01pm and states that there was snow on the ground but no tracks leading to the front door.

If the assertions from the defence witness had not been put to the plaintiff it would be unfair on the plaintiff and makes it more difficult for a judge to assess the reliability of the evidence.

There could be all sorts of possible responses from the plaintiff if the defence case had been put to him:

"Sorry I lied"
"Oh maybe I walked in at 7pm"
"Oh I walked in at 6pm but come to think of it, I used the back door."
"There was no snow on the ground!"
"There was snow on the ground and I left tracks and any evidence to the contrary is wrong!"

The rule provides for fairness and also helps the court.

Regards

Posted by Ian Yarwood on July 25, 2015 10:39

gravatar

Hi Alan,
Media Watch just aired your Skype interview with Paul Barry from 17 July.

Posted by MoW on July 27, 2015 18:41

gravatar

MoW

It's great that you've notified us about the published transcript.

However, it would be really terrific to provide also a link.
For me it's not an issue to google for that, but not everyone is in love with Google...

http://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/transcripts/s4281832.htm

Posted by Sue on July 28, 2015 00:43

gravatar

Great news,

Posted by Anonymous on July 30, 2015 03:27

gravatar

@ Sue, in answer to your comment, cant you read, Comment (text-only, no links or tags, thanks).

Posted by Duncan on July 30, 2015 12:57

gravatar

Hi Ed

BREAKING NEWS: Texan loses gunfight with an unarmed armadillo!

Bullet bounces back and Texan "loses face" as jaw is broken.

Armadillo becomes global hero overnight.

I wonder if the Thai government and the Royal Thai Navy follow the story. No one is supporting the bully in the black hat against the unarmed armadillo. (:

Posted by Ian Yarwood on August 2, 2015 04:14

gravatar

Ian,
Not quite as successful as Larry McElroy firing at an armadillo and the bullet ricocheting into his mother in laws back.
That was his excuse anyway!

Posted by MoW on August 2, 2015 10:01

gravatar

Hey there MoW

I'm sure it "seemed like a good idea at the time." He'll have plenty if time to dream up a reason while his jaw heals.

Posted by Ian Yarwood on August 2, 2015 13:30

gravatar

Sue,
I knew with you on the case that the missing link would eventually be identified.

Posted by MoW on August 2, 2015 14:09


Friday September 18, 2020
Horizon Karon Beach Resort & Spa

FOLLOW PHUKETWAN

Facebook Twitter