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Phuketwan journalists outside Phuket Provincial Court today

Phuket Reporters Held in Cells for Five Hours Over Reuters Pulitzer Paragraph

Thursday, April 17, 2014
Countdown to World Media Freedom Day: Day 13

AN AUSTRALIAN journalist taking a stand against attempts to silence the media in Thailand has spent five hours in a small prison cell crowded with 90 prisoners, including a man who admitted killing his girlfriend.

''It wasn't hell but it wasn't far off,'' said Alan Morison, the editor of an independent news website on Phuket, who insists he is prepared to spend more time in jail to defend media freedoms in Thailand, where defamation laws are increasingly being used to silence criticism.

Mr Morison and his Thai colleague Chutima Sidasathian were freed from cells at a Phuket court late on Thursday after supporters raised 200,000 baht in bail on charges of criminal defamation and computers crimes, for which the pair could be jailed for up to seven years.

The charges relate to a story published in Mr Morison's Phuketwan website last year that included one paragraph from a Reuters news agency report on the violent persecution of Myanmar's Rohingya Muslim minority.

Reuters, which on Monday won a Pulitzer prize for its coverage of the same story, has refused to defend Mr Morison and Ms Chutima, who was hired for several days by the company to work on its Rohingya coverage.

Shortly before the pair was taken to cells pending legal procedures on Thursday, a Reuters spokeswoman issued a statement saying ''we oppose the use of criminal laws to sanction the press - large or small, local or international - for publication on matters of serious public interest, like the Rohingya stories.''

Mr Morison, 66, a former senior Age editor and Ms Chutima, refused to raise the bail money themselves on principle and were remanded to appear in court again on May 26.

Mr Morison said while in the small hot cell he spent most of the time talking with a 52 year-old Norwegian man accused of killing his Thai girlfriend and hiding her body in a bin for three years.

He said the man admitted the killing to him.

''He said it was an accident . . . he had quite a story to tell,'' Mr Morison said. ''He believes he has avoided a murder conviction.''

The Royal Thai Navy's unprecedented charging of Mr Morison and Ms Chutima has been condemned by the United Nations and rights and journalist groups, both in Thailand and overseas.

Reuters, one of the world's largest news agencies, has not been charged over its award winning series but the company's spokeswoman said ''to our understanding'' a complaint against Reuters by the Thai navy is under review.

The spokeswoman said the Reuters story was ''fair, balanced and contextualised''.

Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said the trial of the journalists was ''unjustified and a dark strain on Thailand's record for respecting media freedom.''

''The Thai navy should have debated these journalists publicly if they had concerns with the story rather than insisting on their prosecution under the draconian Computer Crimes Act and criminal statutes,'' he said.

''It is now time for Thailand's leaders to step in and order prosecutors to drop this case, and end this blatant violation of media freedoms once and for all.''

Benjamin Ismail, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk, said taking Phuketwan to court was absurd.

''If they want to dispute the Reuters special report, which has just won a Pulitzer prize, they can publicly give their version of events and demand right of reply,'' he said.

The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand said in a statement that while Reuters, a large media organisation, was being feted for its reporting, ''two poorly-funded local journalists are being prosecuted for their reporting of the same issue, including material from Reuters''.

''These two journalists have done more than most to report accurately from Thailand the plight of the Rohingya,'' the club said in a statement.

''The professional membership of the FCCT shares the view of the UN Human Rights Commissioner and human rights groups that such a prosecution serves only to stifle media freedom on an issue of profound importance to the rights of a persecuted people,'' the club said.

''The legal action also seriously damages the image of Thailand and claims it may make in supporting freedom of speech and fair comment.''

Statement from Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand

THE professional membership of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT) congratulates Thomson Reuters journalists Jason Szep and Andrew R. C. Marshall on a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting on the plight of Rohingya people.

The award recognizes a series of articles that are in the best tradition of journalism, and which expose the systematic abuse of Rohingyas in Myanmar and in Thailand.

At the same time, the professional membership of the FCCT notes that while a large media organisation is being feted for its reporting, two poorly-funded local journalists are facing prosecution for their reporting of the same issue - and indeed for publishing material from a Thomson Reuters report.

The Royal Thai Navy is proceeding with criminal prosecution of two Phuket-based journalists, Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian, who run Phuketwan, a newsletter.

These two journalists have done more than most to report accurately from Thailand the plight of Rohingyas. They have also rendered invaluable assistance to journalists at Thomson Reuters and other local and foreign media organisations attempting to report this humanitarian crisis.

Alan Morison from Australia and Chutima Sidasathian from Thailand are facing charges for criminal defamation and violating the Computer Crimes Act after republishing parts of the Thomson Reuters reports on trafficking of Rohingyas in Thailand.

Under existing Thai law, these are criminal charges that could result in prison terms.

The professional membership of the FCCT shares the view of the UN Human Rights Commissioner and human rights groups that such a prosecution serves only to stifle media freedom on an issue of profound importance to the rights of a persecuted people.

The legal action also seriously damages the image of Thailand and claims it may make to supporting freedom of speech and fair comment.

Phuketwan is marking the 30-day countdown to the 30th anniversary of the World Media Freedom Day on May 3 with news outlets around the world.


Comments have been disabled for this article.


What happened to the martyr who was going to stay behind bars on principle? Nothing surprising about bail being posted- the 'mystery donors' were alluded to in the public realm 2 months ago. What a hypocrite.

Posted by Mister Ree on April 17, 2014 19:02

Editor Comment:

The ''martyr'' and the hypocrite'' both exist only in your small mind, Mister Ree. There is nothing wrong with compromise, provided it pleases others rather than serves your own desires. You are obviously a slow learner about life, so take this as a free lesson from me.


Happy you did let others help. Enjoy your shower. Who will wash my car now? Kata-Beach-Bum?

Posted by Lena on April 17, 2014 19:06


Glad you u accepted the offer of bail. You can do more good outside. I have a feeling this case will cause untold grief for the Thai image.

Posted by Mike on April 17, 2014 19:50


Good on you Alan, never miss a chance for a story. Now reporting from inside the Phuket Prison.

I bet many there would be more than eager to share their stories and the only way to hear them is to be imprisoned.

Naturally I hope you do not end up there but it just shows that though they may be able to lock you up, they will not shut you up or put down your spirits. I hope K. Chutima is ok too.

On another note, Reuters and Pulizer start to look like Aung San Suu Kyi and Nobel. Strangely enough both linked to the same Rohingya issue.

Posted by ThaiMike on April 17, 2014 20:07


The 5 hour jail time was obviously given to the defendants to try to harass and scare them and for the Thai court and Navy to save face. But I think in the long run it will backfire on the courts and the Navy because these 2 defendants seem like they will stand their ground in the future. Be strong and good luck Alan & Chutima.

Posted by Donald Jackson on April 17, 2014 20:11


It is good news that you were finally released from Prison cell by bail. We do need Phuketwan services . The Rohingyas are very happy after learning the news. Justice must prevail !

Posted by Maung Kyaw Nu,Burmese Rohingya Association in Thailand ,BRAT. on April 17, 2014 21:37


Reuter's defecated the sheets on this one, with a generalized, tepid response, without naming the defendants, or Phuketwan. They should have rushed to their defence, but no, they didn't support Alan and Chutima in a tangible, substantial way. Instead,Reuter's organizational tactic is to slime out the back door, Pulitzer prize in hand,with borrowed material, courtesy of none other than the defendants. There's irony at it's best. What would stop them from assisting Phuketwan? Are they upset that they got all the glory for doing half the work? What happened to teamwork and gratitude? Phuketwan puts a feather in their cap, but reciprocity is not in their vocabulary. Kudos to Reuters, and Dunce caps too, size XXXL Meanwhile, Alan got a 5 hour reminder what teamwork is all about, NOT!

Posted by Dean on April 18, 2014 02:26


I must agree with Mister Ree that being released on bail sounds very strange after you announced time and time again you would stand by your principles and rather go to jail than post bail.

Nothing wrong with being more practical, but be honest about it.

Posted by stevenl on April 18, 2014 07:36

Editor Comment:

We've been honest, stevenl. We said we wouldn't post bail and we didn't. If the group who did post bail had been prevented from posting bail, others were also preparing to post bail. We had so many people telling us they didn't want us to go to jail that it would have been a pointless exercise. Great to have that kind of support. But if you no longer believe what we tell you, I take it on principle - the anonymous commenters' code - you will be no longer reading Phuketwan and no longer commenting. As you know, harpers and carpers aren't welcome anyway. We prefer readers who have value to add. And had we been in jail, your farewell comment would have not appeared, so thank your lucky stars.


Apparently this does need to be explained. I apologize in advance for the length. I also apologize for any embarrassment caused the editor but people need to wake up.

To take a stand risking your own personal freedom, life and livlihood is courageous. Many have and will stay quiet to protect themselves, this is cowardly (see the disparity between Reuters actions and those of Alan and Chutima). To continue to publish, irregardless of the risks, to name names, to stay in the public eye when you know that someone is after you is courageous. It should be commended, not condemned. The safest place for these two might actually be behind bars. If they would have taken the path of not allowing bail to be posted it would have been self-defeating, they could no longer take the very stand they are trying to defend. To say openly, we won't post bail because we believe this law to be misguided is to take a stand on principle but to not allow others to post bail for you is to win the battle and lose the war. Obviously had they chosen that route they would no longer be able to name names and stay in the public eye and you would have no site to post your misanthropic comments. You see if they are in jail there is no Phuket Wan.

The enemy here is not Phuket Wan, they have done no wrong but post a paragraph provided by a wire service that was distributed world wide. This (in most places is not criminal but is actually a legitimate job) is considered journalism and "publish and be damned" is considered a basic principle of the profession. For supporting evidence see about every respected news organization in the world that is supporting them (notably of course is the exception of Reuters). The foe is not the Thai people, Phuket Wan is fighting for their rights as well. The foe here is a draconian law that is being misused in a misguided attempt to stifle freedom of the press. Freedom that you seem to take for granted, but a freedom that you enjoy every time you log onto this site. I agree that you should be outraged and you should in fact be complaining - here on this site and any other site you can find. But not that the editor is free but that he spent 5 hours in a hell hole for providing you information and defending the rights of those who cannot defend themselves. The Rohingya have no rights anywhere and but for the work of this site and others like it no one would be aware of their situation. There are several posts from them stating clearly that they support and respect the work of Phuket Wan. This too takes courage and by showing support you too can show courage but by hammering at the editor you only show something else.

The stand that has been taken here is too rare in our society. We are all too well aware of how "accidents" can happen here to the troublesome and I am constantly stunned by the whingers who miss the point and alarmed that so few of the readers seem to be aware of what is at stake. I expected to log into the site and see it flooded with support, instead I see critics passing value judgements safely behind their laptops. I can only imagine what those five hours must have been like and regret that anyone had to spend time behind bars for bringing me my news. I assume that people who come to this site are people concerned about Phuket who wish to be informed. We all have a vested interest in the outcome of this case like it or not. If you can't see that, if you can't grasp the sacrifices being made then you need to re-evaluate. You are getting compassion and understanding wrong.

Posted by Martin on April 18, 2014 12:25


Be strong, truth and justice always prevails in the end... even if it takes years. I'm reminded of Nelson Mandela.

Posted by Jake on April 18, 2014 15:35


Let's hope A and C don't have to spend the same time behind bars as Mandela. Mandela was only the figurehead of the issues requiring chance, the actual change came about from international sanctions which lasted decades. International pressure and isolation slowly drove the country to the position where changes had to occur.
PW's position is completely different. PW reports on what occurs however in this case they became the story because the RTN feathers have been ruffled. The military have controlled Thailand from a behind the scenes positions for almost a century and the allow those who believe they are the selected few or elites to be the figureheads of Thailand.. As long as it suites their objectives!!
None of these figureheads will stand up against the military because they survive off and their positions are only secured while they toe the line.
Freedom of the press and democracy work together and neither exists without the other.
How many politicians have commented or provided support for PW? How many have suggested the RTN's action is wrong? how many really care?
Why should they care because the result has not affect on them whatsoever.
If you really want change, it has to come via international pressure, sanctions and isolation.
It's not going to happen because Thailand is not important in world economics or trade.
So you either learn to play by the rules of the game or you play the game where the rules are followed.

Posted by Manowar on April 18, 2014 16:48


Manowar. Unless you lived in SA and fought in a guerilla war in southern africa, I dont think you should even be mentioning a terrorist like mandela in any polite conversation.
Do not class Alan nor Chutima in the same breath as a terrorist.
You may just mention this to the wrong people.

Posted by Ineptocracy on April 19, 2014 02:37


Ineptocracy, I think you need to learn to read instead of just assuming everyone is against your predetermined thoughts. The reference to Mandela was in relation to the time incarcerated in a previous post. Both sides committed crime against humanity in this conflict, both black and whites and both sides still do. I assume you are a typical white SA who still believes that you were right and you were forced from SA to seek peace.
Your suggestion not to speak or mentioned is a typical example of the arrogance where you believe you have the right to determine the actions of others. I suggest you pull your head in, get over your loss and just come to the understanding that the while ruling class lost. I'm sure its not the first time you have been associated with losing and definitely won't be the last.

Posted by Manowar on April 19, 2014 06:01

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