Navy sues journalists for defamation and violating Computer Crimes Act

The Royal Navy army sued two journalists from Phuketwan website after they reported navy’s involvement in trafficking the Rohingyas in Southern Thailand. The police on Monday charged them for defamation and the Computer Crimes Act.
 
Phuketwan journalists Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian reported on July 17 quoting from Reuters’ article entitled “Special Report: Thai authorities implicated in Rohingya Muslim smuggling network,” which accused the Thai naval forces of benefitting 2,000 baht per Rohingya for cooperating with human traffickers in Phang Nga, a southern province north of Phuket. 
 
Phuketwan, the local news website based in Phuket, has won several international human rights awards for their investigative reporting on the Rohingya refugees, who escape prosecution and violence from Rakhine state in Eastern Myanmar. 
 
Thai navy officer Captain Pallop Goamlotok, plaintiff on behalf of the Royal Thai Navy, stated that the problematic paragraph “is false information which caused disgrace and harm to the reputation of the Navy.” 
 
“If the navy really have nothing to hide and truly not involved in this, they should just hold press conference clearing up their image. Using lawsuit is just plainly wrong solution,” said Chutima. 
 
Since the information was published online, the Navy also filed criminal charge under the Section 14 (1) of the controversial Computer Crimes Act of 2007, which prohibits importing of false information into computer system. If both are found guilty, they could face up to five years and 100,000 baht penalty.   
 
On Wednesday the journalists presented themselves at the police station in Phuket while denying all charges. They are due to meet with the police again on December 24 for questioning. 
 
Chutima, who has been reporting on Rohingya issues with Phuketwan website for five years, said it was the first time she was sued for defamation. She said she was shocked that the Royal Thai Navy pressed charge for her reporting especially when she was citing from credible news agency like Reuters. 
 
“We only picked up report from Reuters agency. This is a serious intimidation to the media and a major step backwards for press freedom in Thailand,” she said.   
 
According to Chutima, the police have issued summons for Jason Szep and Stuart Grudging, two Reuters journalists who wrote the article quoted by Phuketwan.  
 
The charges prompted concerns from international human rights organization such as Human Rights Watch who called on the Navy to drop charges immediately.
 
“The  Navy's decision to sue Phuket Wan marks another dark day for press freedom in Thailand and shows clearly how easily the Computer Crimes Act can be abused,” said Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch Asia Deputy Director, adding that the government should abolish the “draconian CCA law,” preventing similar abuse to journalists in the future.
 
Voicing similar concern was media freedom advocates Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) who on Thursday condemned the action of the Royal Thai navy. 
 
“Targeting a small online news outlet for publishing what is essentially a humanitarian story reflects a bully’s strategy to silence critics, sending a strong warning that anyone who expresses something they disapprove of will be prosecuted,” said SEAPA in their statement.