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Drop Navy Charges Against Phuketwan Pair, Australian Liberty Rights Group Urges Thailand

Sunday, January 26, 2014
PHUKET: The following letter has been sent by Liberty Victoria to Thailand's Ambassador in Australia regarding the criminal defamation action being pursued by the Royal Thai Navy against Phuketwan journalists Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian:

The Ambassador.
The Royal Thai Embassy,

111 Empire Circuit,

Dear Sir

Liberty Victoria is one of Australia's leading human rights and civil liberties organisations. It is concerned with the protection and promotion of civil liberties throughout Australia.

As such, Liberty is actively involved in the development and revision of Australia's laws and systems of government. Further information on our activities may be found at

We write to raise the case of Australian journalist Alan Morison, who is under a threat of jail for defending media freedom in Thailand. We are sure that the Thai Embassy must know of this case and the matters it raises in relations between our two countries.

Mr Morison has said, and we agree, ''This is a clear issue of freedom of media and the military exceeding its role in using an onerous law unjustly.''

Mr Morison edits and publishes Phuketwan, a small but popular news website on the island of Phuket.

A defamation case was launched by your country's navy against Mr Morison and his colleague, Chutima Sidasathian, on Christmas Eve.

They face up to five years' jail and fines if convicted under the Computer Crimes Act. If convicted on criminal defamation charges, they could be jailed for up to two years.

You may be aware that the navy's action has done your nation's standing no good, bringing criticism from the United Nations, human rights groups, non-government organisations, and media outlets and unions in Thailand and other countries.

A petition in the journalists' defence is circulating and attracting many signatories. The global writers' group PEN is protesting strongly against the charges. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists is monitoring the case.

The charges relate to a story published in July 2013 that quoted a Reuters news agency investigation alleging that some members of the Thai military were involved in networks smuggling Muslim Rohingya boat people from Myanmar, described by the UN as among the world's most persecuted people. Reuters has not been charged.

We would be grateful if you conveyed to your government the strong feeling in Australia that this is an unfair case and the charges should be dropped. We will be making this letter public.

Yours sincerely

Jane Dixon SC
Liberty Victoria

Full Royal Thai Navy Cartoon:

Navy Uses Computer Crimes Act to Sue:

Phuket Reporters Prepared for Prison:

What Others Say

United Nations
''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.''

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.''

''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.''

Bangkok Post
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.

Barb Burg, Reuters' global head of communications: ''Our story was fair and balanced and Reuters has not been accused of criminal libel.''

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.


Comments have been disabled for this article.


Putting aside for the moment the inexcusable treatment of the Rohingya by many groups: if Phuketwan is such a staunch defender of the freedom of the press and free speech why does it ban the comments of respondents that in its sole judgment it considers to be frivolous, ill informed, misinformed, illiterate or contrary to the strongly held views of the editor. Although tenuous, there seems to be a line between this defamation issue and the biter bit!

Posted by Michael on January 26, 2014 10:52

Editor Comment:

The issue becomes relevant when commenters start writing the truth and nothing but the truth under their own bylines, in defence of the Rohingya or for any other legitimate reason, apart from self-aggrandisement. Until then, your comment remains yet another frivilous ill informed waste of time.


Ignoring your predictable last sentence rudeness. Your 'truth' seen through one dimensional eyes is a precursor of censorship and a denial of free speech.

Posted by Michael on January 26, 2014 11:54

Editor Comment:

Free speech is when people stand up and speak the truth, Michael. The rest is mostly anonymous Internet commenting. To not understand the difference says more about modern education than human rights.


The common misconception, especially online, is that freedom of speech means you can say whatever you want.

Posted by ThaiMike on January 26, 2014 15:07

Editor Comment:

And the most common misconception is that everyone imagines what they say is worth saying.


I sincerely hope that there was a Thai translation attached to the above missive.

Posted by Sam Wilko on January 26, 2014 15:12



Posted by wirot eamsuk on April 26, 2014 05:42

Editor Comment:

Thank you for your comment but if it's not in English, all we see here is a long series of questionmarks.


Dear Ed

Re: Jane Dixon SC - President, Liberty Victoria

It is most interesting to go back through earlier editions of Phuketwan and through various publications on the internet to see the depth and breadth of the support you have received in relation to these defamation charges.

It is notable that the Melbourne human rights barrister, Julian Burnside AO QC is also part of the chorus of support.

Ian Yarwood
Solicitor - Perth, Western Australia

Posted by Ian Yarwood on June 27, 2015 11:41


UPDATE: Jane Dixon QC, Past President of Liberty Victoria and Phuketwan supporter has just been appointed as a judge of the Supreme Court of Victoria.

Posted by Ian Yarwood on August 13, 2015 13:30

Monday June 17, 2024
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