2015-09-01 17:05:49 Releases

The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) the union and industry advocate for Australia’s journalists, is delighted that Walkley Award-winner and former senior editor of The Age Alan Morison and journalist Chutima Sidasathian have been cleared of criminal defamation charges in Phuket today.

The pair were charged with criminal defamation in April 17 2014, under articles 326 and 328 of the Thai Criminal Code. The charges carry a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment and a fine of up to 200,000 Baht (USD $6000). They were also charged with violation of article 14(1) of the Computer Crimes Act, which carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment and a fine of up to 100,000 Baht (USD $3000).

The charges followed the reproduction on the news web site Phuketwan.com of a single paragraph from a Reuters special report on Rohingya boat-people published in July 2013. The case was brought by the Royal Thai Navy. Reuters subsequently won a Pulitzer Prize for the investigation in 2014. Morison is editor of the site and Sidasathian had worked with Reuters on its award-winning report.

On July 14, the pair faced a three-day trial at the Phuket Provincial Court. During the final two days, the prosecution did not attend leaving all defence evidence unchallenged. MEAA and the International Federation of Journalists sent Australian barrister Mark Plunkett to be a trial observer.

Following the verdict, Plunkett said: “This is a timely reminder to call for a repeal of pernicious criminal defamation and computer crimes law that threaten the freedom of speech for all people in Thailand but are directed at stifling the freedom of news media by threatening and intimidation all journalists reporting on news in Thailand. The prosecution of journalists and threatening lengthy goal terms in and outside of Thailand for reporting the news is a grotesque oppression that stifles the development of Thailand.”

Paul Murphy, CEO of the union for Australian journalists – the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEA) – said: “This was a vitally important case. The use of criminal defamation laws to muzzle the media and stifle free expression is a real threat to public interest journalism. Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian should be applauded for their courageous news stories highlighting the plight of the Rohingya people.

“Instead, their lives and their work were thrown into upheaval for two years during this case, as the Royal Thai Navy undertook a heavy-handed assault on journalism in a case based on the Navy’s inaccurate translation of a Reuters news story, a single paragraph of which was republished by the journalists’ web site Phuketwan.com. The fact that the Navy didn’t pursue Reuters but chose instead to go after these two journalists is indicative of a frightening attempt to intimidate, harass and silence local news media.

“Thankfully for journalists across Thailand and throughout the Asia-Pacific region, Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian were determined to take a stand for press freedom and the public’s right to know despite the prospect of seven years’ jail in a Thai prison. For that, we should all be grateful,” Murphy said.

For more information contact: Mike Dobbie 0401 730 195