At the same time, the plight of the Rohingya in Thailand also continues to be discussed, the ambassador said in response to an email from Phuketwan editor Alan Morison.
Mr Morison's four sisters have written an open letter to the US, British, Australian and New Zealand navies asking them to break off their relationships with the Royal Thai Navy until the criminal defamation action is withdrawn.
''We raised concerns about those charges directly with the Thai Navy during the recent visit of HMS Daring and the Commander in Chief of the British Navy, Admiral Sir George Zambellas, to Thailand,'' Mr Kent wrote.
''I can sympathise with your family's distress at this time and would like to reassure you that the UK (and its Navy) is a staunch defender of all fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of the media.''
The open letter from Mr Morison's sisters made the point that genocide of the kind that ''good navies'' fought to stop in World War II is being carried out in Burma (Myanmar) against the Rohingya.
''We believe that it is through sustaining and deepening our engagement with Thailand, including its armed forces, that the UK will find itself better placed to promote important values such as respect for human rights and democracy,'' Mr Kent wrote.
''We, together with other Embassies in Bangkok, will continue to monitor the progress of your case.''
Captain Panlob Komtonlok, acting on behalf of the Royal Thai Navy, lodged actions at Phuket's Vichit Police Station on July 17 last year against Phuketwan and Reuters journalists.
His complaints concerned a single paragraph in a special report published earlier that day by Reuters and republished word-for-word in Phuketwan. The case against Morison and Khun Chutima (complaint No. 489/2556) is being pursued but paperwork has yet to be processed in the case against Reuters and two of the news agency's journalists (complaint No. 490/2556.)
The criminal defamation action is accompanied by an accusation laid under the Computer Crimes Act. Together, the two charges carry a maximum penalty of seven years in jail and/or a fine of 100,000 baht.
It is believed to be the first use of criminal defamation and the Computer Crimes Act against the media by the Thai military.
Phuketwan is a small Phuket-based media outlet that has won an international reputation for its coverage of the enforced Rohingya exodus from Burma. Thomson Reuters describes itself as world's largest international multimedia news agency.
Both media outlets have continued to cover the Rohingya saga in detail despite the impression being given that the action by Captain Panlob Komtonlok is designed to muzzle the media.
''We don't intend to let this stop us doing our job,'' Mr Morison said today.
''The Royal Thai Navy is a good organisation but Captain Panlob appears to have been given some bad advice. We believe any nation in which the military sues the media is an undemocratic nation. Captain Panlob should have simply made a telephone call.
''We believe that if the navy allows this case to proceed, it will damage its own good reputation and tarnish Thailand's reputation as well. We will go to jail if necessary in defence of media freedom.''
The United Nations human rights spokesperson, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Southeast Asian Press Alliance, the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand and Australia's Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance have all called on the Royal Thai Navy to withdraw the action.
Thank you for your email and bringing the open letter to my attention. Together with colleagues at the Embassy, I have been following the fact that criminal charges have been brought against you for citing the Reuters report that alleges mistreatment of Rohingya by various Thai officials.
We raised concerns about those charges directly with the Thai Navy during the recent visit of HMS Daring and the Commander in Chief of the British Navy, Admiral Sir George Zambellas, to Thailand. I was also able to build on the UK's discussion with Thailand about the plight of Rohingya, which has been led by Foreign Office Minister of State, Mr Hugo Swire, by raising those concerns with the Chief of the Thai Navy during the visit as well. The UK continues to press Thailand to ensure that international protocols governing the treatment of refugees are strictly adhered to, by offering protection and assistance to those who land on her shores.
I can sympathise with your family's distress at this time and would like to reassure you that the UK (and its Navy) is a staunch defender of all fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of the media. We believe that it is through sustaining and deepening our engagement with Thailand, including its armed forces, that the UK will find itself better placed to promote important values such as respect for human rights and democracy. We, together with other Embassies in Bangkok, will continue to monitor the progress of your case. Please feel free to contact us at any point.
Ambassador to Thailand
January 4, 2014
The Chief of the Australian Navy
- Vice Admiral Ray Griggs AO
The Secretary of the Navy, United States
- Ray Mabus
The Chief of Defence Staff, Great Britain
- General Sir Nick Houghton
Chief of Navy, NZ Defence Force
- Rear Admiral Jack Steer
As four women who support peace, not war, we are pleading for your help. Our brother Alan Morison, who has been working as a journalist in Thailand, is being sued for criminal defamation by a captain on behalf of the Royal Thai Navy.
The captain is also using the Computer Crimes Act, an outrageous law designed to sink free speech and all it means. We ask your help because this is all about democracy. We believe the reputable navies of the world all support free speech and a free media in a free world.
We are peace loving sisters but our father John Morison went to World War II to fight for democracy in the Pacific and both our grandfathers fought in World War I at Gallipoli. One grandfather was wounded and shipped home, the other went on to the Western Front where he was gassed.
Our brother Alan was ready to fight in Vietnam. As a family, we've done our bit for the free world and democracy. Now Alan, it appears, is being condemned by the Royal Thai Navy for his award-winning work writing about the Rohingya, a stateless people who are being subjected to genocide in Burma and forced to flee to the sea.
We are certain we don't have to tell you gentlemen about genocide, or why WWII was fought. Thailand, you will recall, is where thousands of Allies died during that same war on the Burma railway, the Death railway.
We would hate to think they died in vain and that the lessons of democracy have not been learned in Thailand, of all places. But that appears to be the case.
It's understood in all democracies that no military should be beyond criticism. No military should be a law unto itself.
In defence of our brother, the United Nations human rights representative, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Southeast Asian Press Alliance, the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand and Australia's Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance have all called on the Royal Thai Navy to withdraw its criminal defamation action.
Because you four gentlemen understand so well the parallel roles of the military and the media in a democracy, we ask all of you to please suggest that the Royal Thai Navy calls off this inappropriate court action. If the action is not brought to an end, we suggest you suspend all military cooperation with Thailand until such time as this action against free speech and democracy is halted.
Yours respectfully in peace,
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