Updated at 11:30 p.m. ET on 2017-08-23
A Thai lawyer has dropped charges against a Bangkok-based BBC correspondent in a criminal defamation case stemming from a report about a man losing his Phuket Island property through alleged fraud, the broadcaster announced Wednesday.
Journalist Jonathan Head had faced up to seven years in prison if found guilty on two charges against him. But a criminal defamation trial was set to continue against his co-defendant, Briton Ian Rance, the subject of a September 2015 report narrated by Head.
“The plaintiff has withdrawn his case against BBC journalist Jonathan Head, but as the trial of his co-defendant is continuing, we cannot comment further at present,” a BBC statement said.
“All charges against me in Phuket defamation case have now been dropped. Great relief for me but case against co-defendant Ian Rance continues,” Head said in a tweet.
Both men had appeared in a Phuket court early Wednesday for the start of the trial, at which the plaintiff called one witness, Rance told BenarNews earlier.
Rance alleged in the BBC report that his Thai ex-wife had forged his signature on documents that authorized the transfer of properties he owned on Phuket, a top destination for Western retirees.
Thai lawyer Pratuan Thanarak, who appeared in the BBC report, had filed charges against the two men, saying they had defamed him by alleging that he had notarized the forged signatures.
The courthouse in the southern province was the site of another high-profile court case in 2015, when the Royal Thai Navy sued two editors of the now defunct Phuketwan website for reprinting an excerpt of a controversial Reuters report on human trafficking. The two were acquitted after two years of litigation.
"The use of criminal defamation complaints in Thailand has a chilling effect on journalists who fear being bogged down in time-consuming and expensive litigation," Shawn Crispin, Southeast Asia representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement in February.