The Thai Government must drop criminal charges against two journalists from the online news outlet Phuketwan who are about to go on trial on 14 July 2015 for writing about the trafficking of the Rohingya, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said today, 29 June.
The trial revolves around criminal charges brought by the Royal Thai Navy against Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian for reproducing one paragraph from a Pulitzer Prize-winning article written by Reuters news agency implicating the Navy in the smuggling of the Rohingya off the coast of Thailand.
“Thailand must drop these charges immediately and unconditionally,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.
“Criminal prosecution of speech is a violation of international law, and the Thai Navy’s relentless pursuit of this case seems even more misguided as it comes at a time when journalists have played a vital role in uncovering mass graves on the Thailand-Malaysia border and thousands of migrants and refugees, including Rohingya, left stranded on boats in the Andaman Sea,” he added.
On 16 December 2013, the Royal Thai Navy lodged complaints of criminal defamation and offences against Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act (CCA) against the journalists.
On 17 April 2014, the journalists were charged with criminal defamation under articles 326 and 328 of the Thai Criminal Code, which carry a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment and a fine of up to 200,000 Baht (USD $6,000); and violation of article 14(1) of the CCA, which carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment and a fine of up to 100,000 Baht (USD $3,000).
“The absurdity of these prosecutions was emphasized when the Office of Thailand’s Prime Minister recently asked one of the two journalists, Chutima Sidasathian, who is working towards a Ph.D. on the Rohingya, to suggest a solution to the ‘boat people’ crisis,” Zarifi further said.
“It is not too late to follow that request with an unconditional withdrawal of all charges as an official recognition of the important work by Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian in raising these issues and as a concrete gesture of Thailand’s purported commitment to addressing them,” he added.