A captain who says he is acting on behalf of the Royal Thai Navy is prosecuting reporters Alan Morison, an Australian, and Chutima Sidasathian. He is also taking action under the contentious Computer Crimes Act.
Today the journalists, from the Phuketwan online news magazine, took the unusual step of republishing the paragraph at the centre of the defamation suit that could see them jailed for as long as seven years.
''We invite people to compare the original paragraph with the translation in the defamation action,'' said Morison, a journalist for more than 40 years who has never been sued until now.
''The only conclusion any right-thinking person could draw is that this defamation action is false and foolish. The action should be brought to an end immediately.
''As journalists who believe in media freedom, if the Royal Thai Navy proceeds, we are ready to go straight to jail. We will not seek bail.
''We will be protesting against this attempt to strangle media freedom. In a democracy, no arm of the military should sue the media.''
The paragraph at the centre of the criminal defamation action was taken from a special report by the Reuters news agency and republished by Phuketwan on July 17.
Quoting directly from the Reuters report, which in turn quoted a smuggler, it reads:
''The Thai naval forces usually earn about 2000 baht per Rohingya for spotting a boat or turning a blind eye, said the smuggler, who works in the southern Thai region of Phang Nga and deals directly with the navy and police.''
The paragraph was translated from the original English into the Thai language and presented to police on Phuket by a representative or representatives from the Royal Thai Navy.
Translated back into English, that paragraph reads:
The smuggler who works with Royal Thai Navy and Police in Phang Nga Province said The Royal Thai Navy usually earn about 2,000 Baht per Rohingya for spotting a boat or turn a blind eye.
The journalists are also being sued over the headline on the Phuketwan article. The original headline reads: Thai Military Profiting from Trade in Boatpeople, Says Special Report
The translation from the Thai language back into English from the document presented by the Navy to police reads: Special Report: The Royal Thai Navy gains interest from boat refugee smuggling.
''This is clearly a trumped up charge,'' Morison said today. ''Reuters made no direct accusation about the Navy. Phuketwan merely quoted the Reuters paragraph, which was quoting a smuggler.
''We have always been extremely careful about all accusations. Plainly, the Navy's translation - the translation on which this whole action is based - massively distorts the original paragraph.
''Why is the Navy, an honest and reputable organisation, not concerned about truth and justice in this case? The media has every right to ask why.''
Reuters and two Reuters journalists are also being sued by Captain Panlob Komtonlok on behalf of the Royal Thai Navy. That case is proceeding more slowly than the case against the Phuketwan journalists.
Morison and Khun Chutima have been told their case will reach court on Phuket ''in early January.'' It's believed to be the first time any arm of Thailand's military has used the Computer Crimes Act to sue the media.
The action comes amid increasing concern in Thailand for legal reforms aimed at ending corruption and making all politicians and government officials more responsible for their actions.
The Royal Thai Navy and Phuketwan
Journalists Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian issued a statement today as follows:
BACK in 2008, it was a vice admiral from the Royal Thai Navy's base on Phuket who introduced us to the word ''Rohingya.'' Navy officers supplied us with photographs of the Navy dealing with boatpeople.
One officer even suggested that it was time that the United Nations was called in to help.
The Royal Thai Navy sparked our interest in the Rohingya. At that time, we had a friendly relationship with the Navy. From our side, the relationship remains friendly.
The Navy deserves great respect for its rescues of tourists at sea, for its work protecting Andaman Sea turtles, and for rebuilding villages after the tsunami as well as work with other charities since then.
In 2009, when the Navy was accused of being involved with the ''pushbacks'' of Rohingya boatpeople, it was the journalists from Phuketwan who defended the Navy and said other branches of the military were involved.
Five years on, Phuketwan retains its respect for the Navy but the Navy appears to have changed its approach.
Once, a dispute about an article would have been settled with a telephone call and a meeting - which is precisely how the Navy settled one disagreement with Phuketwan journalists back in 2010.
The other way for a branch of the military to settle a dispute with the media is to issue a media release, or hold a press conference.
Ignoring those normal alternatives, the Royal Thai Navy has chosen to use criminal defamation and the Computer Crimes Act.
We think it's a sad day for democracy in Thailand. We are ready for jail.
Reporters Prepared for Prison:
Superb Cartoon from The Nation: