Thailand: Prosecution Declines to Question Phuketwan Editors

By BenarNews Staff
2015.07.15
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150715-TH-thainavy-620 A helicopter takes off from the Royal Thai Navy ship HTMS Ang Thong before an operation in May to provide humanitarian assistance to Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants stranded on boats in the Andaman Sea.
AFP

Two journalists charged with criminal defamation in Thailand testified Wednesday during the second day of their trial, but the prosecution opted not to cross-examine the co-defendants.

Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian, editors of the Phuket-based Phuketwan news website, are standing trial for allegedly defaming the Royal Thai Navy (RTN) and violating Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act of 2007 by quoting an excerpt from a Reuters’ news agency report that implicated naval personnel in human trafficking.

Before they testified, the court announced that the prosecution had declined its turn to question the defendants. The prosecution had presented its case on Tuesday.

The three-day trial at Phuket Provincial Court is expected to end Thursday. A verdict will come within a month.

The defendants could face up to seven years in prison each, if convicted.

While on the stand, Morison denied all the charges against him.

He explained through an interpreter that the entire case was based on an inaccurate translation into Thai of an English-language excerpt from the Reuters’ report.

The original English excerpt stated that “Thai naval forces” were involved in human smuggling, whereas the translated version specifically implicated “the Royal Thai Navy,” Morison told BenarNews before the hearing.

The special report was part of a series that earned Reuters a Pulitzer Prize in 2014.

The judges heard that the navy never formally pressed charges against Reuters, although a navy captain filed a criminal complaint against the agency and two of its reporters, according to the U.S.-based Poynter Institute.

Chutima later took the stand and also denied the charges.

She testified that the case was being seen internationally as a test case for freedom of speech in Thailand.

Phuketwan had published the navy’s official denial of Reuters’ allegations, giving the military branch the same prominence on the website as its original report that included the excerpt from the news agency’s report, she said.

‘That easy’

Cmdr. Thanom Lumzaie, deputy chief of the Third Naval Command’s Judge Advocate Division who listened to Wednesday’s testimony, explained the navy’s case against Phuketwan.

“Once we saw the article appear on the Phuketwan website, we deemed it as defamatory and proceeded with legal and English-language experts before filing a formal complaint with Wichit district police,” he said after the hearing.

Since the alleged defamatory statement was disseminated via the internet, charges were also filed under the Computer Crimes Act.

“It is just like when you post something on Facebook that ruins another party’s reputation. If that person seeks justice, you face the possibility of being sued. It is that easy,” Thanom said.

“However, this is not a complicated case at all. I have faith that the judges will be fair and even-handed to the both parties.”

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