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Stop Repressive Assault on Press Freedom, Thai Government Urged

Wednesday, January 29, 2014
PHUKET: Australia's media and arts trade union has written today to Thailand's ambassador, seeking Government intervention to ensure that a Royal Thai Navy legal action against two Phuketwan journalists is dropped.

His Excellency Mr Maris Sangiampongsa
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Royal Thai Embassy
111 Empire Circuit
Yarralumla ACT 2600
thaican@mfa.go.th

Your Excellency,

The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) is the trade union and professional association for Australia's journalists. I write regarding the reported impending legal action for criminal defamation that is to be taken against the editor of Phuketwan, Australian journalist Alan Morison and his colleague reporter Chutima Sidasathian.

It is alleged the Royal Thai Navy's reputation was harmed in a story examining the smuggling of Rohingya migrants - the information in question came from a paragraph in a Reuters special report. This case would be the first time Thailand's military forces have used the Computer Crimes Act to file a criminal defamation suit against a media organisation.

The pair face up to two years' imprisonment on the criminal defamation charges and up to five years in prison for breaching the Act, as well as a fine of up to 100,000 baht.

The use of criminal defamation against journalists is a heavy-handed and repressive assault on press freedom. We urge the Thai Government to intervene with the Navy to prevent this court case from going ahead.

You will be aware that the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has said: ''Criminal prosecution for defamation has a chilling effect on freedom of the press, and international standards are clear that imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty for defamation. The criminal charges against Mr Morison and Ms Chutima could have serious implications on Phuketwan's future operations, possibly compromising its ability to report on issues related to Rohingya asylum seekers to the public.''

MEAA is concerned that the RTN's actions aim to punish, in the most excessive manner possible, a Thai publication for reproducing a report from an international news agency. This would have a chilling effect on all journalists and media outlets working in Thailand at a time when press freedom is vital to ensure that the community is fully-informed and that the media can work with confidence in reporting the truth and ensuring the public's right to know.

We urge you to appeal to the Thai Government to ensure the charges against the pair are dropped and that they be allowed to continue to work without harassment or intimidation.

Yours sincerely

Christopher Warren
Federal Secretary

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