cnn.com Thai navy sues Phuketwan journalists over Rohingya trafficking report
PHUKET: Two Phuket journalists accused of criminal defamation have been invited to speak to street protesters in Bangkok about the misuse of bad laws in Thailand's ''make-believe democracy.''
The journalists say they are hoping to gain the attention of reform groups on both sides of Thailand's political divide in the run-up to the February 2 election to look at ways of making Thailand truly democratic.
''Getting rid of bad laws is a start,'' said Alan Morison. He and Chutima Sidasathian say the Royal Thai Navy is misusing bad laws to make false accusations that have little hope of being proved in court.
The suit is seen by many as an attempt by Thailand's military to silence a small, troublesome media outlet.
''We aim to highlight the injustice of criminal defamation and the Computer Crimes Act by organising street protests in the Australian city of Melbourne and outside the Navy base on Phuket,'' said Mr Morison, editor of Phuketwan.
''Thai residents, expats and tourists will be invited to both protests.''
Last week Captain Panlob Komtonlok alleged that the two journalists had damaged the reputation of the Royal Thai Navy by republishing a paragraph from a special report in July by the Reuters news agency on the trade in Rohingya boatpeople.
''Amazingly, the nominated paragraph triggering the action and the headline for the article do not mention the Royal Thai Navy,'' Mr Morison said today,
He remains hopeful that the action will be ended before the two journalists appear at Vichit Police Station, south of Phuket City, to have a statement taken on Tuesday.
''We have the greatest respect for the Navy and we believe this action is out of character,'' Mr Morison said. ''But if police go ahead and take a statement on Christmas Eve, we will be forced to begin our defence - on a global scale.''
Support for the journalists has poured in from around the world. It is believed to be the first time that the military in Thailand has used criminal defamation to sue the media.
Reaction against the Navy prosecution continued to mount today.
Trevor Grant, a well-known journalist and convenor of 'Friends Of Refugees', based in Melbourne, Australia, said: ''Rather than being hauled into the courts, these two should be applauded for investigating this appalling treatment of the Rohinyga people who are fleeing persecution.
''We know about the plight of these people because many of them have come to Australia seeking refuge from the life-threatening circumstances they face every day in Myanmar.
''The allegations of abuse of these vulnerable people by elements in the Navy are extremely serious. Firstly, it is important to air them publicly, and, secondly, for the appropriate authorities to look into them.
''The Royal Thai Navy has a very good international reputation which is being besmirched by this sledge-hammer reaction against two highly-regarded, experienced journalists doing their job by telling their readers the truth.
''Many Australians are following the case closely and hope that the Navy comes to its senses and brings an end to this outrageous action.''
On Phuket, news of the Navy's prosecution brought a reaction from a Russian news group.
''We, fox2fox.ru, want to express our support to colleagues from Phuketwan, because the criminal case for slander was opened on them,'' said an email received today.
''Your courage and devotion to work always struck and inspired us, your ability accurately to follow the code of journalistic honor and to find such news which any other edition can't find.
''We often translate your materials into Russian, and with pride we refer to you because you are professionals of the business!
''You are very courageous journalists and we hope that justice will prevail. If someone from officials is really involved in a slave trade, he has to incur punishment.''
The two journalists are waiting to see whether the Navy aims to proceed before accepting the invitation to speak in Bangkok and organising street protests on Phuket and in Melbourne.