From 14 to 16 July, Mr. Alan Morison and Ms. Chutima Sidasathian will be standing trial at the Phuket Provincial Court for publishing an article which quoted an investigative report by Reuters on the smuggling of Rohingya asylum seekers. The charges were filed by the Royal Thai Navy.
The article was published in Phuketwan, a small English-language newspaper based in Phuket, on 17 July 2013.
The two journalists face charges of criminal defamation and violation of the Computer Crime Act. If convicted, Mr. Morison and Ms Sidassathian face up to five years in prison.
Phuketwan has been a leading source of information on the plight of Rohingya asylum seekers since 2008.
International human rights standards uphold the right of journalists and others to disseminate information that is of legitimate public interest.
In April 2015, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression raised concern that there have been increasing arrests and prosecutions under the Computer Crime Act and called for an end to criminalisation of dissenting opinions.
As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Thailand has the obligation to uphold the right to freedom of expression (article 19).
The UN Human Rights Committee has outlined that ''[s]tates parties should consider the decriminalisation of defamation'' and ''the application of criminal law should only be countenanced in the most serious of cases and imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty''.
OHCHR urges the Thai authorities to drop the charges against the two journalists.
Freedom of the press, including freedom for journalists to operate without fear of reprisals, is essential in promoting transparency and accountability on issues of public interest.
THE Regional Office for South-East Asia in Bangkok represents the High Commissioner for Human Rights within South East Asia. The High Commissioner for Human Rights is the principal human rights official of the United Nations and heads the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for
Human Rights, which spearheads the United Nations' human rights efforts .
OHCHR website: http://www.ohchr.org
Statement attributable to Phil Robertson, Deputy Director, Asia Division, Human Rights Watch on the trial of Phuketwan journalists Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian in Thailand on July 14-16 - in Phuket Provincial Court.
''The fact that these two journalists are even on trial is a scathing indictment of the Thai government's unwillingness to respect media freedom and clear indicator of how far and fast the environment for free expression has deteriorated under military rule. Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth should have ordered the Navy to stand down and withdraw the charges - but instead he effectively endorsed their effort to gag media critics, and in doing so, administered another body blow to what little remains of Thailand's international rights reputation. The real message of this trial to Thailand's journalists is report at your own risk because big brother in Bangkok is watching - but fortunately, when they went after Alan and Chutima, the Navy and the ruling military junta came up against two courageous journalists who are not afraid to fight for their principles. They deserve the international community's unstinting support. They certainly have Human Rights Watch's support.''