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Phuketwan journalists with Jonathan Head at the FCCT last night

Pentagon Called in on Phuket Media Freedom v Military Defamation

Thursday, March 6, 2014
BANGKOK: An unprecedented defamation lawsuit against Australian journalist Alan Morison that is seen as a threat to media freedom in Thailand has been raised at the Pentagon as a group of his supporters plan to protest in Melbourne next Tuesday.

Representatives of Human Rights Watch urged the US defence establishment at the Pentagon to advise the Royal Thai Navy to abandon charges against Morison, a former senior editor at Fairfax Media'sThe Age newspaper, and his Thai colleague Chutima Sidasathian.

''People have been coming out of the woodwork both internationally and locally . . . media groups, rights groups . . . people from everywhere have jumped to our support,'' Morison told the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand.

''I have found out that people I used to work with have organised a protest in Melbourne. It's wonderful.''

The navy's unprecedented action to pursue Morison and Chutima under Thailand's criminal defamation laws and Computer Crimes Act has prompted widespread criticism, including from the United Nations.

''These are sweeping laws and their use against these terrific journalists will have a profoundly negative impact on media freedom in Thailand,'' said Jonathan Head, president of the correspondent's club and the BBC's correspondent in Bangkok.

There is a possibility that when Morison's supporters are protesting on Tuesday, the journalists who write and publish the Phuketwan news website from the Thai resort island of Phuket may be in jail.

They have been summoned to meet a public prosecutor on Monday, where they expect to be told whether the charges will proceed to court. If the decision is to proceed they are likely to appear before a judge who will probably set bail.

But Morison and Chutima have declared they will stand on the principle of media freedom and not post bail.

''We are prepared to go to jail. This a bad law,'' Chutima told the correspondents' club.

Morison said he was still ''scratching my head'' trying to work out the motivation of the navy in launching the action that could lead to him and Chutima, his partner, facing a maximum of five years in jail and fines if convicted under the Computer Crimes Act, and up to two years' jail if convicted on criminal defamation charges.

The charges relate to a story published in Phuketwan in July that quoted a Reuters investigation alleging that some members of the Thai military were involved in smuggling Muslim Rohingya boatpeople from Myanmar.

The story did not mention the Royal Thai Navy and pointed out those responsible were probably renegades.

Phuketwan, which Morison founded in 2008, has won praise and several journalism awards for its coverage of the plight of the Rohingya, who have been described by the UN as among the world's most persecuted people.

Morison told the correspondents' club there is no doubt that Rohingya who have fled persecution in Burma are dying in secret camps run by smugglers near the Thai-Malaysia border.

''The nightmare goes on without enough light being shed on who is responsible,'' he said.

Morison said it would be ''difficult to defend the charges ourselves for a story that was written by Reuters journalists''.

No action has yet been taken against Reuters, a multinational company which has not commented on the action against the two journalists nor offered any support.

The company has transferred from Bangkok one of the authors of the report. The other lives in Kuala Lumpur.

''We hope Reuters will react in the interests of media freedom if and when they are charged,'' Morison said.

If Morison and Chutima are jailed they will be sent to Phuket's overcrowded jail that was built to hold 700 prisoners but now has almost 2500 inmates. Conditions there are harsh.

Morison sold his apartment in Melbourne to set-up Phuketwan, which provides local and foreign news coverage for Phuket where an average 20,000 Australians holiday each month.

The lawsuit is one of about 1600 defamation cases launched in Thailand in 2013, many of them by powerful interests.

Court records show that of the defamation cases that proceed to trial in Thailand an average of 96 percent lead to convictions, one of the world's highest rates.


Comments have been disabled for this article.


When you continually aggravate the authorities in a country that is sensitive to criticism, you know what to expect. If you care so much about the rohingya why don't you ask your own country to take them in? We all know, and I agree with, what the majority of your country men think about and voted re refugees, so don't play Santa Claus with another country's sovereignty and sensitivities, and stop whining and whinging, it may see you deported like Satish whose only crime was to speak on a stage.

Posted by Rob on March 7, 2014 10:53

Editor Comment:

How odd, Rob. Last time you wrote, you were ''Ian'' and you were trying to sell our readers on villas and apartments. Your advice is even worse than your selling technique.


- Rob

Speaking up for those who have been deprived of their voice is one of the noblest things a person can do to his/her fellow human being.

For you to show such staggering indifference and ignorance clearly shows these concepts are completely foreign and meaningless to you.

You would have felt right at home in the cave man era.

Posted by ThaiMike on March 7, 2014 15:08


@Rob, you should know, I'm assuming you are an adult, that all countries having immigration rules/policies, one reason is to protect their borders, hence, security against many things, like animal and plant diseases, terrorism etc. What we have here though is innocent people being sold off into slavery, which for some strange reason you seem to have missed.

Posted by Laurie Howells on March 7, 2014 16:20


Rophingas are one of the most persecuted ,forgotten and their tragedy of life inside their own country and out side are hardly voiced out .The generous and noble journalist of Phuketwan have been voicing out especially Rohingya boat people issue with their own budged and full times engagement since 2008. This is a great humanity and working for voiceless people.Due to them ,many Rohingya's lives were saved. As an oppressed Rohingya I am welcoming other civil society and news persons to come forwards to save the humanity rather than dishonoring and attacking those who are at NOBLE job. Alan and Chutima are always in our taught and pray.I have witnessed at FCCT that all attendees were proud of their noble services for the Rohingya boat people. Truth and Justice will prevail. We salute the two honorable journalists.

Posted by Maung Kyaw Nu,Burmese Rohingya Association in Thailand ,BRAT. on March 8, 2014 19:46

Wednesday July 17, 2024
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