Thai Reporter Wins Prize for Covering Lese-Majeste Cases

BenarNews Staff
151006-TH-mutita-1000 Thai journalist Mutita Chuachang poses for a photograph at the Bangkok offices of the online news outlet Prachatai, Oct. 5, 2015.

Agence France-Presse on Tuesday named Thai journalist Mutita Chuachang the winner of its 2015 Kate Webb Prize for her coverage of royal defamation cases in Thailand, which few local reporters dare touch.

The prize, named after an AFP war correspondent, honors reporters who excel under difficult conditions while covering stories in Asia, the French news agency said in a statement.

Mutita, a 33-year-old reporter for Prachatai, an online news operation that publishes in Thai and English, was named this year’s winner “for her powerful and persistent reporting” on lese majeste cases, it said.

“We are recognizing Mutita for her efforts to present a balanced, in-depth coverage of sensitive topics in Thailand, which can be difficult in an extremely dynamic political environment,” AFP Asia-Pacific Director Philippe Massonnet said.

The award carries 3,000 euros (U.S. $3,400) in prize money, the agency said.

Court cases emanating from the lese-majeste law, enshrined in Article 112 of the kingdom’s criminal code, have proliferated under Thailand’s 16-month-old military government. People convicted of defaming any of the royals can be sent to jail for 15 years per count.

“Cases are often cloaked in secrecy with many defendants tried in military courts – without the right to appeal – since the arch-royalist Thai junta seized power in 2014,” AFP said.

“The offense also carries widespread social opprobrium in the sharply hierarchical society where reverence to the monarchy – led by 87-year old King Bhumibol Adulyadej – is a given.”

‘Interesting and sincere views’

A graduate of Bangkok’s Thammasat University, Mutita has been covering royal defamation cases since 2008, according to Prachatai, which on Tuesday reported the news of her award.

“I’ve become interested in the cases related to Article 112 because it’s a crucial issue of Thai politics. I found that the mainstream [Thai] media reported about this stuff like a crime story. They don’t give much importance and even prejudge the suspects,” Mutita told Prachatai.

“Because I didn’t prejudge them, I got lots of interesting and sincere views from them and also found weaknesses in the Thai justice system. The cases multiplied over time. It clearly shows that this country has problems with freedom of expression.”

According to research done by the Paris-based Worldwide Human Rights Movement (FIDH), in the year after the junta took power on May 22, 2014, at least 47 people were detained under Article 112.

“Eighteen people have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from one to 50 years, for a combined total of 159 years – an average of eight years and eight months each. In most cases, defendants saw their sentences halved because they pleaded guilty to the charges,” FIDH reported on May 20, 2015.

AFP was to present the award at a ceremony in Bangkok next month, according to Prachatai.


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