Prachatai journalist wins AFP prize for tenacious reporting of lèse majesté cases

Prachatai journalist Mutita Chuachang has won the 2015 AFP prize for Asian journalists for her “powerful and persistent” reporting of cases under the lèse majesté law, AFP reported on Tuesday. 
 
While most of the Thai mainstream media shy away from touching the monarchy-related issues, Mutita has persistently followed and reported cases under Article 112, or the lèse majesté law, punishable with up to 15 years in jail. She has regularly visited lèse majesté prisoners in prison and attended almost every court hearing. 
 
The prize is named after Kate Webb, one of AFP's finest correspondents who earned a reputation from her fearless reporting in the Asia-Pacific region and who died in 2007 at the age of 64. 
 
Mutita, 33, will receive a certificate and 3,000 euros in cash in a ceremony held in November this year in Bangkok. 
 
“I’ve become interested in the cases related to Article 112 because it’s a crucial issue of Thai politics. I found that the mainstream media reported about this stuff like a crime story. They don’t give much importance and even pre-judge the suspects,” Mutita told Prachatai. 
 
Right after graduation from Thammasat University’s Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication, Mutita started working with Prachatai when the news agency was founded almost 11 years ago. 
 
In 2008, Mutita started to cover the first lèse majesté story when Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul, aka Da Torpedo, was arrested for her speech, and later sentenced to 18 years in prison. 
 
“I was quite naive when covering Da Torpedo. It was my quest to understand what’s happening in Thai society and understanding the suspects themselves,” said Mutita. “Because I didn’t prejudge them, I got lots of interesting and sincere views from them and also found weaknesses in the Thai justice system. The cases multiplied over time. It clearly shows that this country has problems with freedom of expression”
 
Human Rights Watch told AFP that Mutita's articles, which do not carry a byline, are a key source of information and data on lèse-majesté sentences and convictions, and called them "valuable work." 
 
In 2014, the Kate Webb Prize was awarded to Multimedia journalist Patricia Evangelista from the Phillipines.