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Khun Chutima and Morison after being held in court cells for five hours in April

Thailand Trafficking Downgrade Likely to be Maintained, Says Phuketwan Editor

Wednesday, July 9, 2014
PHUKET: The criminal defamation trial of two Phuket journalists appears certain to proceed and will probably unfavorably affect Thailand's status again in next year's Trafficking in Persons report, a hearing was told this week.

Nine officers from the Royal Thai Navy acknowledged when they met Phuketwan reporter Chutima Sidasathian and editor Alan Morison in Bangkok that it was beyond the Navy's power to end the trial.

The Navy officers and the journalists met on Monday under the auspices of Thailand's National Human Rights Commission, which had previously talked with both parties separately.

Morison spoke first and told the gathering that the journalists' trial is scheduled to continue in Phuket Provincial Court in March next year.

Because the Phuket court has already suspended a visa that enables him to work in Thailand, Phuketwan will be forced to close in February, the month before the trial resumes, Morison said.

The closure of the small but influential Phuket online news site is likely to mean that the US State Department's TIP report will again criticise Thailand.

The military versus media law suit is unprecedented and, many NGOs believe, an attempt to silence reporting of the Rohingya issue.

The legal action by the Royal Thai Navy, together with lack of real transparency on how Thailand treats Rohingya, trawler crews and migrant labor workers, led to Thailand being demoted to the bottom level, Tier 3, in this year's Trafficking in Persons report.

''We regret what has happened because of this lawsuit,'' Morison said. ''A simple telephone call one year ago would have prevented the problem.

''It is a tragedy for Phuketwan, for the Royal Thai Navy and especially for Thailand that we did not meet as we are today to resolve this matter in July last year,'' Morison said.

He added that it was not part of the normal process in most democracies for the military to sue the media.

The Royal Thai Navy opted on July 17 last year to complain to Phuket police that the reputation of the service had been damaged in a Reuters news agency report, parts of which were republished the same day by Phuketwan.

Since charges were formalised in December, Morison's passport has been seized and he faces a maximum of 14 years in jail under criminal defamation and the Computer Crimes Act.

Khun Chutima, 32, faces a maximum of seven years in jail.

On Monday, the Navy representatives accepted that the paragraph that caused their anger originated with Reuters and was republished by Phuketwan.

So far only the journalists at Phuketwan, a small Phuket-based news outlet, have been charged. Police are proceeding much more slowly with a similar case against Reuters.

On Monday, when the Navy officers and the Phuketwan journalists met in private, Khun Chutima produced printouts from four Thai-language news outlets that had published the same Reuters paragraph, translated from English.

Those outlets have also not been charged.

Much of the discussion on Monday centred on the words, ''Thai naval forces.'' Those words form a key part of the contentious paragraph.

''Thai naval forces'' does not necessarily mean the Royal Thai Navy, Khun Chutima said, pointing out that many arms of the Thai military and even local police used grey-painted vessels to patrol the Andaman Sea.

Khun Chutima said that although she understood what she thought was intended, it was really up to the Reuters journalists, not Phuketwan journalists, to defend their paragraph.

The Thai-language translation of the 41-word paragraph presented to prosecutors by Phuket police mentions the Royal Thai Navy three times. The Royal Thai Navy is not mentioned at all in the original English version.

Although Monday's meeting achieved no obvious progress, Morison and Khun Chutima and several of the Royal Thai Navy officers acknowledged it was good to meet and exchange points of view.

Reuters subsequently won a prestigious Pulitzer prize and an award from the Society of Publishers in Asia for its Rohingya boatpeople coverage.

Comments

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Hm, if complainant can't withdraw compliant, then surely a prosecutor can who brought a charge. May be he/she should be invited to one more mediation meeting, again with Royal Thai Navy participating to avoid ping-pong..

Posted by Sue on July 10, 2014 00:10

Editor Comment:

Once made, complaints under the Computer Crimes Act cannot be withdrawn.

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Well I am truly sorry to hear that this trial is set to continue. The damage it will do to Thailand as a whole country will be enormous. But as we have seen in the past, this country does not give a hoot for what the world thinks, until it is way too late. Alan and Chutima, I am still holding onto some hope that some enlightened person from the Coup Leadership, steps in to put a halt on this trial. Alan I am not a doomsayer but with the meeting yesterday, tell me you don't feel like you were given the proverbial kick in the nuts?

Posted by Duncan B on July 10, 2014 04:44

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It will be a sad day for Phuket if Phuketwan is forced to close because of this travesty.
Let's hope you get a judge who can see the absurdity of this prosecution.

Posted by Phil on July 10, 2014 06:52

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I'm no lawyer, but if an article is fair comment on a matter of public interest made with an honest belief of its soundness (Reuters doesn't BS) then it is defendable against a claim of criminal defamation. I have no idea how the Computer Crimes Act is interpreted, but if it goes against comments on social media sites, then it is an invasion of privacy, but posting an extract from from a reputable news agency should not in any way be a criminal offence. After all Thailand signed Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which guarantees the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds. If the case proceeds it will, in my view, cause a great deal more damage to the country's reputation as a repressive regime.
PS: Is this one or two cases? Criminal defamation and a complaint under the Computer Crimes Act?

Posted by Pete on July 10, 2014 09:30

Editor Comment:

Two charges, one case number. The Computer Crimes Act was intended for use against people who misuse computer information (eg fake ATM cards) and data thefts. A campaign is underway to end misuse of the act.

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Can you give me a reference to that campaign?

Posted by Pete on July 10, 2014 09:48

Editor Comment:

Several Thai law organisations are campaigning, including the team who are our legal advisors. The Thai Law Reform Commission is not able to campaign against the law but has expressed the view the law is being used in a manner that was not intended by its creators.

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Because precedence does not exist in Thai law, every case is based upon any persons interpretation of any law. There is an obvious reason for this to occur and an obvious reason why this is a failed system and why decisions are not consistent. Legal precedence provides law interpretation for which to compare a similar case to achieve a similar result.
Under existing law it would be possible to charge your cat for chewing on your mouse!

Posted by Manowar on July 10, 2014 10:12

Editor Comment:

Indeed.

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With the country under Military control the last thing they need is more bad press; it'll only go further in destroying tourism and foreign investment.

Thailand could truly be a great nation if only they weren't too sensitive to open and constructive criticism.

Posted by Graham on July 10, 2014 12:42

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@Ed

It is not true that criminal case can not be withdrawn when it is in a court, as such possibility is prescribed expressis verbis in the Criminal Procedure Law Section 35:

"Section 35 A motion for leave to withdrawn a criminal prosecution may be filed at any time before judgement by the Court of First Instance. The Court May issue an order granting or refusing such leave as it thinks fit. If the motion is filed after the accused has submitted his defense has been filed, he shall be asked if he has any objections, and the Court should write down his statement. In the case accused objects to the withdrawal, the Court should dismiss the motion.

Cases concerning a compoundable offence, can be withdrawn or settles any time before they become final. But if the accused objects, the Court should dismiss the motion for leave to withdraw the prosecution."

I understood that in your case a criminal case is brought into court by a Public Prosecutor, not by the victim, thus the Public Prosecutor can file a motion under the Section 35, you should liaison with him.

However, the victim - if they only wish so - can re-take a case from the Public Prosecutor , that is in a Court, under Section 30 to associate itself as a prosecutor and file a motion under Section 35.

You do not have a lot of time to press Public Prosecutor to withdrawal a case.
And lawyers, as usually, can be not always perfect ... - you should execute as well your own judgement.

Posted by Sue on July 10, 2014 14:16

Editor Comment:

We are told that the Computer Crimes Act cannot be withdrawn, so as the two are linked there's little likelihood of the criminal defamation being withdrawn.

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I think the navy has made it point very clear and that is to put Phuketwan out of action, plain and simple. I base this judgement on the facts as I see them and these facts are being misrepresented here. K Chutima has the copies of the the four Thai newspapers articles, that were translated from the English version of the the Reuters article. The Reuters article says ''Thai naval forces'' and the translated Thai papers version says Royal Thai Navy three times. The Royal Thai Navy is NOT mentioned at all in the original English version. So who should be brought up on charges, I say the Thai interpreter of the original English version and then Reuters. So this is purely aimed at Phuketwan. The Thai Navy by proceeding will be, in nautical terms, be Standing into Danger. Then the actions of two officers will be questioned and they too will be held responsible for diminishing Thailand's status to that equal to it's neighbour Burma, as a non free speech country. This action will see Thailand more closely monitored by foreign press, yes even at sea where the navy thinks it can't be seen. Welcome to the age of video flying drones.

Posted by Robin on July 12, 2014 16:42

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Wouldn't PW use a chance to interview Adm Narong while he is in Phuket now, about beach and related issues on teh island, and explain what PW advocates about it and the most of its readers? May be it will help build better understanding about some other issues, that PW is acting in good will..

Posted by Sue on July 14, 2014 17:25

Editor Comment:

The admiral, like the general, doesn't give one on one interviews, Sue. Today there was a brief door-stop session for all media.


Friday August 7, 2020
Horizon Karon Beach Resort & Spa

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