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Chutima Sidasathian at yesterday's seminar on criminal defamation

Retweeting Becomes a Crime in Thailand

Thursday, September 25, 2014
BANGKOK: A prominent media figure is being sued for criminal defamation for a retweet, a seminar aimed at reforming Thailand's oppressive libel laws heard yesterday.

National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commissioner Supinya Klangnarong, who fought and won a long case involving a criminal defamation suit by Shin Corporation, said the action against her over the retweet showed that flaws in present laws were now being exploited more widely.

Yingcheep Atchanont, Advocacy and Campaign Officer, Internet Dialogue on Law Reform (iLaw), told the gathering that suing for defamation was now popular as a means of saving face among individuals and government agencies.

''These people should use the public sphere to resolve their disputes rather than resorting to the courts,'' he said. ''Police and prosecutors should be able to detect that these cases are a wrong use of the law and reject them immediately.''

It was blatantly unacceptable in the case of government agencies, he said: ''Individuals who feel offended can sue through the courts on their personal behalf.''

Human rights activist Pornpen Kongkajornkiert, facing a suit because she wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Prayuth Ong-chan alleging torture, said that there would be grave dangers if the knee-jerk reaction to sue became entrenched as part of Thai culture.

''It could quickly become a tool to stop the regular flow of information,'' she said.

Supan Rakcher, Deputy President of the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association, asked for a more open response to criticism.

''Authorities should not walk away from checks that are made by journalists or individuals,'' he said. ''I beg you, government officers, private individuals, to carry your criticism into the public arena, not the courts.''

Dr Durnden Nikomborrirak, of the Thailand Development Research Institute, said that without a Parliament to provide checks and balances, the work of journalists and rights advocates became even more important.

''Government agencies are never going to be able to check on each other,'' she said.

Phuketwan journalist Chutima Sidasathian told the conference that the pending closure of Phuketwan, the seizure of the passport of her colleague Alan Morison and a continuing campaign of intimidation by the Royal Thai Navy to hamper her reporting were all side effects of the inappropriate use of criminal defamation and the Computer Crimes Act.

The law reform seminar, attended by about 120 people, was NBTC Public Forum 5/2014.

Declaration of Interest: In July next year, Phuketwan journalists Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian face a continuing trial over criminal defamation and Computer Crimes Act charges brought by the Royal Thai Navy, citing a 41-word paragraph from a Pulitzer prize-winning Reuters report on the Rohingya boatpeople. Reuters and other news organisations in Thailand that published the same paragraph have not been charged. The charges were laid before the military takeover in Thailand.

Comments

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Anyone with a PC or smartphone in Thailand will now have to think twice before they post or tweet as we know for certain that Big Brother is watching. Totally shameful when privacy goes out the window.

Posted by Pete on September 25, 2014 09:08

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Yes and no Pete. It's a bit like Pandora's Box, once opened I think it is very hard for a country that depends on tourism, has a huge influx of foreign visitors to keep a lid on the truth. What is unfortunate is that there will be arbitrary and unjust charges laid at many honest people's doors in the mean time. In the interim, all we can do is continue to press for fair and equal treatment, for an end to some draconian laws and hope that pressure on the current PM to not want to look like a tin pot dictatorship leads to a rethink of Freedom of Speech Laws in Thailand.

Posted by Martin on September 25, 2014 10:28

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The world is now watching. The Navy will eventually flinch ( but not Chutima and Alan ) - being under increasing international scrutiny.

Posted by farang888 on September 25, 2014 22:13

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The top three nations in RSF's press freedom index ALL have criminal defamation laws http://rsf.org/index2014/en-index2014.php

In the UK people have gone to prison for tweets and others suffered large civil damages claims.

The point in Thailand is not the laws so much as the power context within which they operate.

Eg there is no genuine oversight on power - the Army can kill who it wants, take power when it wants, and the head of state can't even be criticised.

within such an anti-democratic, unaccountable context abuse of power is inevitable.

the solution? more democracy, more accountability.

Posted by Andrew Spooner on September 26, 2014 01:24

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"Could be used as a tool"? No, it already is. I was hoping the new, allegedly common sense govt would make this a reform priority, instead it seems to be relying on it more and more along with use of Article 112, both as a political device. Strongly suggest leaving the country- it will get worse and worse as China becomes the new model and the west less so.

Posted by The War Whores on September 26, 2014 09:55

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UK abolished seditious libel and criminal defamation a few years ago. Apparently they law was a problem even if it was only a relic then.

Posted by Lenord Wow on October 2, 2014 08:48

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TNM, maybe not China but HK is heading in an interesting direction. How mainland people react I suppose will depend on how successful HK is.
Maybe the catalyst for permanent change.

Posted by Manowar on October 2, 2014 13:03


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