PHUKET: Thailand's problems in dealing with the Rohingya boatpeople and a probing media are a direct result of the ethnic cleansing taking place in Burma, Phuketwan editor Alan Morison says.
In an interview with a Thai legal advocacy firm, he speaks out about the Royal Thai Navy case against Phuketwan using Thailand's much-criticised Computer Crimes Act and criminal defamation laws.
''It was alarming to have a big organisation sue a small organisation in the way that the navy had for no good reason,'' he tells iLaw.
''It feels frustrating because we want to sue them back but, of course, we don't want to use this law because it is a bad law.''
Morison and his colleague Chutima Sidasathian spent five hours in cells beneath Phuket Provincial Court on Thursday as a preliminary to their trial, which begins on May 26.
The pair face a maximum of seven years in jail, with a 100,000 baht fine. The Navy case concerns just one paragraph, republished with excerpts from a Reuters special report that last week won the Pulitzer prize.
Reuters has not been charged. The large international news agency ceased contact with Phuketwan in December, immediately after Morison told a Reuters journalist about the charges against Phuketwan.
In the four months since, Reuters has failed to speak out in defence of its paragraph or on behalf of Phuketwan, even though Khun Chutima worked for Reuters on the Pulitzer winning series.
In the iLaw interview, Morison said he took the Royal Thai Navy charges as a challenge.
''Instead of self-censorship we should be more frank and more open to say what exactly is happening and more direct in the way we do stories,'' he said.
The fault for the problems related to Rohingya in Thailand lay entirely with Burma (Myanmar), he said.
''The Burmese push the Rohingya into the sea. They are forced to leave the country and so Thailand has to deal with that.
''Sadly, Thailand remains silent and secret and keeps the issue as quiet as possible. We believe this issue is important to the international community so we have been writing about it for seven years now.
''People around the world are aware that Burma is now officially a democracy but they are not aware of the intolerance within Burma.
''What is happening in Thailand is really a byproduct of what's happening in Burma. Thailand is an innocent party to the real cause of problem.
''So we try to make the point that it is difficult to be a democracy with such entrenched racism and intolerance. The Rohingya are persecuted for no good reason, simply because they are Muslims in a Buddhist country.
''The world needs to know more about Burma.
''I'm still horrified that the Navy brought this charge. It is unreasonable. If I have to go to jail in protest at this attack on media freedom, then that is something we are prepared to do.''
Morison also believes the use of criminal defamation and the Computer Crimes Act by the Navy tarnishes Thailand's reputation as a democracy.
The laws should be repealed as soon as possible, he said.
Phuketwan has offered the Royal Thai Navy as much space as needed to say whatever they wish to say about the Rohingya or the suit against Phuketwan.
Khun Chutima, who is also a PhD candidate, is now in Australia where she plans to speak about the case and the Rohingya at Sydney University on Tuesday.
The International Conference on Thai Studies is held every three years, hosted either by a Thai university or by a university outside of Thailand where there is an interest in Thai studies.
The conference will celebrate the University of Sydney's long-standing connection with Thailand.
Khun Chutima is also booked to speak at the Melbourne Press Club on April 29.
Phuketwan is marking the 30-day countdown to the 30th anniversary of the World Media Freedom Day on May 3 with news outlets around the world.