Thailand: end prosecution of Phuketwan journalists for reporting on Rohingya trafficking crisis
In a letter sent today, the ICJ and seven other human rights organizations urge the Thai Government to drop criminal charges against two journalists from the online news outlet Phuketwan who are about to go on trial for writing about the trafficking of the Rohingya.
The letter was sent to the General Prayuth Chan-ocha, Prime Minister of Thailand.
The trial, which is set to start on 14 July, 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.
Sam Zarifi, ICJ Asia Pacific Regional Director (Bangkok), t: +66 807819002; e: sam.zarifi(a)icj.org
Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a State Party, guarantees the right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to impart information. The UN Human Rights Committee, which monitors State compliance with the ICCPR, has expressed its concern at the misuse of defamation laws to criminalize freedom of expression and has said that such laws should never be used when expression is made without malice and in the public interest.
The ICJ, an increasing number of governments, the Human Rights Committee and other international authorities, believe that criminal defamation laws should be abolished. Such laws are inherently incompatible with the ICCPR and other international laws and standards on freedom of expression. Criminal penalties are always a disproportionate means to protect against reputational harm and pose an impermissibly severe impediment to the exercise of free expression.
Thailand was criticized in May 2014 when the United Nations Committee Against Torture expressed its concern “at the numerous and consistent allegations of serious acts of reprisals and threats against human rights defenders, journalists, community leaders and their relatives, including verbal and physical attacks, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, as well as by the lack of information provided on any investigations into such allegations.”
The Committee recommended that Thailand “should take all the necessary measures to: (a) put an immediate halt to harassment and attacks against human rights defenders, journalists and community leaders; and (b) systematically investigate all reported instances of intimidation, harassment and attacks with a view to prosecuting and punishing perpetrators, and guarantee effective remedies to victims and their families.”
Thailand-Letter to PM Prayuth re Phuket Wan-Advocacy-open letters-2015-ENG (full text of the letter, in PDF)
Thailand-Phuketwan cases-News-Press release-2015-THA (full text of press release in PDF, Thai)
Thailand-Letter to PM Prayuth re Phuket Wan-Advocacy-open letters-2015-THA (full text of the letter, in PDF, Thai)