PHUKET: The Reuters news agency has won a Pulitzer prize for its reporting of the Rohingya persecution, the Columbia University judging panel announced yesterday.
The board commended Jason Szep and Andrew Marshall for their ''courageous reports'' on the Rohingya, who in their efforts to flee from Burma, ''often falls victim to predatory human-trafficking networks.''
Announcement of the prestigious award comes at a fascinating point in a landmark legal case that emphasises both the treatment of the Rohingya boatpeople and the lack of freedom of the media in Thailand.
Phuketwan journalists Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian are due to appear in court on Phuket on Thursday to face charges that could bring them up to seven years in jail - for republishing one paragraph word-for-word from a Reuters special report on the Rohingya boatpeople.
The action, employing Thailand's harsh criminal defamation laws and the odious Computer Crimes Act, has been condemned by international rights organisations and is now being investigated by Thailand's Human Rights Commission.
The authors of the original Reuters report have not been charged, nor has Reuters spoken out in defence of the two Phuketwan journalists. Other Thai media outlets that republished the same paragraph have also not been charged.
''Congratulations to Reuters,'' Morison, who edits Phuketwan, said today. ''Jason Szep and Andrew Marshall have worked very hard recently to bring to the wider world the tragedy of the Rohingya that Phuketwan has been consistently reporting since 2008.''
Stephen Adler, Reuters Editor-in-Chief, said in a statement he was ''immensely proud'' of the ''high-impact series.''
''For two years, Reuters reporters have tirelessly investigated terrible human-rights abuses in a forgotten corner of the Muslim world, bringing the international dimensions of the oppressed Rohingya of Myanmar (Burma) to global attention,'' he said.
''What we were writing about was under-reported,'' Szep said from Washington. ''I hope through this, there is greater international attention of the risks and presence of religious violence in Myanmar.''
The judges praised the entire Reuters coverage but focussed especially on one article, published on December 4, headlined: Special Report - Thailand secretly dumps Myanmar refugees into trafficking rings.
Additional reporting came from Jutaret Skulpichetrat and Amy Sawitta Lefevre in Bangkok, and Stuart Grudgings in Kuala Lumpur.
The authors of the earlier special report over which the Phuketwan journalists face jail were Jason Szep and Stuart Grudgings.
One Royal Thai Navy officer, Captain Panlob Komtonlok, made the accusation in July last year that the Reuters paragraph republished by Phuketwan damaged the reputation of the entire force, which has about 60,000 serving members.
The captain's law suit was approved by Assistant Commander Admiral Polawat Sirodom and papers were served on the Phuketwan journalists in December.
Phuket's public prosecutor, Wiwat Kijjaruk told CNN Friday there was enough evidence to proceed with the case.''Even though the two said that they just republished an article from Reuters . . . they should have checked the facts before doing so,'' he said.
CNN could not reach the Thai navy for comment.
A spokesperson for Reuters told CNN: ''We wish to emphasize that Reuters' story does not single out the Thai Royal Navy, but explores the responsibility of all involved in patrolling the Thai seas and provides their perspectives.''
UN condemns Thai court case against journalists over people trafficking report
Phuketwan is taking part in a global 30-day countdown to the 30th anniversary of World Media Freedom Day on May 3. Attention focuses on jailed journalist Peter Greste and his Aljazeera colleagues in Egypt.