Phuket police have issued summonses for Reuters and two Reuters reporters, one of whom is a member of the team which won Pulitzer, to hear charges with respect to a story which accused the Thai Navy of involvement in human trafficking of ethnic Rohingya refugees. The content was similar to that which was previously used to bring charges against Phuketwan journalists, according to Phuketwan.
“The police called me yesterday [Monday] to ask for Reuters address in order to send them the summonses by post,” Chutima Sidasathian of Phuketwan told Prachatai on Tuesday. “I told them the address of Reuters office in [Bangkok's] Silom district.”
Chutima, along with Alan Morison, journalist and owner of the Phuketwan, an English-language news website, based on touristic island of Phuket, southern Thailand, have been charged with defamation and Article 14 of the Computer Crime Act for defaming the Thai Navy and publicizing false information on the computer system.
They were charged because they quoted a paragraph of a Reuters “Special Report: Thai authorities implicated in Rohingya Muslim smuggling network,” written by Jason Szep and Stuart Grudgings and published on 17 July 2013. If Morison and Chutima are found guilty, they could face up to five years imprisonment and a 100,000 baht fine. The charges under Computer Crime Act are non-compoundable.
In early April, Szep and Andrew Marshall from Reuters won a Pulitzer Prize for international reporting for an investigative report on the persecution of Muslim Rohingya people, some of whom have fled religious persecution in Myanmar to southern Thailand.
According to the Phuketwan journalist, who got to talk briefly with the police, the summonses have been posted for Reuters, Szep and Grudgings on similar charges. There are two sections in the news story which were deemed by Thai police as defaming the Thai Navy. One of the two paragraphs is quoted by Phuketwan and subject of a suit by Thai Navy on similar charges.
Chutima said she was a fixer for Reuters for the Rohingya story in Southern Thailand.
Chutima and Morison are scheduled to have a first hearing at the court to present witness list on May 26.