Australian Deputy Opposition Leader.
''THE THAI Navy should drop this lawsuit for many reasons. If for nothing else, many people would not even know about this situation if not for the lawsuit. (I knew about the Rohingya situation, but not the allegations with the Navy.) Thailand is a strong country. It does not need draconian media rules. Thailand will be even stronger with fewer rules.''
International Reporter With the People's Democratic Reform Committee
PHUKET: Media freedom in Thailand remains an important issue and it really is time that the Pulitzer-prize winning Reuters news agency spoke up in defence of it, Phuketwan editor Alan Morison said today.
''We've been waiting since December for Reuters to take an active role in defence of Phuketwan's right to republish their copy,'' he said.
''After all, the paragraph over which reporter Chutima Sidasathian and I are being sued is a Reuters paragraph.
''Now that Reuters has deservedly won a Pulitzer for their excellent coverage of the Rohingya boatpeople issue, we hope they will speak out about media freedom in Thailand.
''In true democracies, the military doesn't sue the media. And the paragraph Phuketwan's journalists face jail over is a Reuters paragraph, written by Reuters' Pulitzer-winning journalists.''
Morison said that Reuters employed Chutima twice last year. She guided them to meet contacts in Thailand that she had established over seven years of covering the treatment of the Rohingya in Thailand.
''For four months now, Reuters has remained silent on the issue of Phuketwan being charged over a Reuters paragraph. It's time they spoke out, as many other organisations have done.
''Just like the Royal Thai Navy, Reuters appears interested only in its reputation, and unconcerned about the principle of media freedom in a democracy.
''I think that's unbecoming of a Pulitzer prize-winning organisation - especially as one of the people charged under these insidious laws contributed generously to Reuters' prize-winning coverage.''
Morison and Khun Chutima face a maximum penalty of seven years in jail. They are due to appear at Phuket Provincial Court tomorrow.
Phuketwan is taking part in a 30-day countdown to the 30th anniversary of World Media Freedom Day on May 3.
''Criminal prosecution for defamation has a chilling effect on freedom of the press,'' said Ravina Shamdasani, the spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. ''International standards are clear that imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty for defamation.''
Barb Burg, Reuters' global head of communications: ''Our story was fair and balanced and Reuters has not been accused of criminal libel.''
Human Rights Watch
''The Thai navy's lawsuit is a reckless attempt to curtail journalists' reporting on alleged human trafficking by its officers,'' said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. ''Unless the government withdraws the case, its impact will be felt far beyond those reporting on abuses against the Rohingya - and could have a choking effect on all investigative reporting in Thailand.''
Reporters Without Borders
"It is intolerable that journalists are being prosecuted for just doing their job by relaying information of general interest that had already been made public," Reporters Without Borders said. "Bringing charges under the controversial Computers Crimes Act in a defamation case is indicative of the critical state of freedom of information in Thailand and amounts to an attempt to gag the media. We support these journalists, who are facing a jail term, and we call for the immediate withdrawal of these proceedings."
Committee to Protect Journalists
''Rather than shooting the messenger, the Royal Thai Navy would be better suited launching an internal investigation into the serious allegations of abuse that have been raised,'' said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative. ''This type of legal intimidation aims ultimately at discouraging media reporting on allegations of serious human rights abuses.''
Chris Lewa, director of the rights group the Arakan Project
''Thanks to the fair investigative reporting by the Phuketwan journalists, the involvement of various Thai agencies in the massive smuggling and trafficking operations of Rohingya refugees and their related miseries is no more a secret. Rights groups should unite to call on Thailand to quash these defamation charges.''
''We wish the Royal Thai Navy would clear its reputation by explaining precisely what is happening to the Rohingya in the Andaman Sea and in Thailand,'' Phuketwan said in a statement released in response to the charges. ''By instead using a controversial law against us, the Navy is, we believe, acting out of character.''
The action makes the navy look like a bully, and gives the impression the admirals would like to intimidate the media. Instead of defending the navy's honor, the criminal defamation suit holds it to question. Instead of silencing the media about the story - concerning the navy's role in the mistreatment of Rohingya boatpeople - the lawsuit repeats it, to more people and at greater length.
Morison said: "The navy's action over one paragraph has created a perfect storm. If the navy proceeds with the case, the Rohingya issue is now tied up in their action against media under a controversial law."
In the meantime, calmer seas mean that even more Rohingya are expected to attempt the treacherous journey in the weeks ahead. Nothing could gladden the traffickers more.
Bill Barnett (The Phuket Insider)
The issues which have drawn Phuketwan into this fray are profound and disturbing. There should be no need to wax over reality and respect needs to be given to those who stand up for the helpless who cannot help themselves.
Andrew Drummond (Investigative Journalist)
We should all support journalists who are doing a difficult job here under laws which best suit a totalitarian state.
Excellence in Human Rights Reporting, Investigative Reporting awards
In 2010 the Phuketwan team shared the Society of Publishers in Asia Award for Excellence in Investigative Reporting and a second Award for Excellence in Human Rights Reporting, with the South China Morning Post newspaper. Judges said of the Excellence in Investigative Reporting award: ''An excellent series that uncovered serious government abuses and had a material impact in correcting them. Exclusivity. Strong reporting. Hard-hitting piece with international implications.''
Of the Excellence in Human Rights Reporting award, the judges said: ''Excellent investigative work that exposed serious human rights abuses of oppressed people. Intrepid reporting of a hidden subject. This is a high-caliber series buttressed by solid on-the-ground reporting and great pictures. All militaries are challenging subjects for investigative reporters and Thailand's is no exception. The team clearly went to great lengths to get sources, break news, and provide the details that prodded the government into action.''