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ICJ and Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada submit legal brief in defamation case against Thai journalist

Today (27 April), the ICJ and Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) jointly submitted a legal brief (amicus curiae) to the Court of Appeal in criminal defamation proceeding against Thai journalist Suchanee Cloitre.

Suchanee Cloitre (Source: National Union of Journalists Thailand)

The journalist is being charged after making a post on Twitter highlighting labour rights violations by Thammakaset Company Limited. The post detailed an order by Thailand’s Court of Appeal for Specialized Cases for Thammakaset to provide compensation to its 14 former employees from Myanmar, with the word “slavery” included in the post. This inclusion is the basis for defamation claim.

On 24 December 2019, Suchanee was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment by Lopburi Provincial Court.

The intervention reviews the nature and scope of Thailand’s international legal obligations relating to the right to freedom of expression. It makes clear that the imposition of harsh penalties such as imprisonment has a “chilling effect” on the exercise of freedom of expression, which Thailand is bound to protect pursuant to its international legal obligations.  It particularly undermines the work of journalists and human rights defenders seeking to bring to light these violations and whose activities must be protected.

The brief underscores that under international law and standards, criminal sanction involving imprisonment must never be imposed for defamation.

Criminal defamation, under sections 326 of the Criminal Code, carries a maximum sentence of one year of imprisonment, a fine of up to 20,000 Baht (approx. USD 640) or both. Section 328 criminalizes defamation “by means of publication” with up to two years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 200,000 Baht (approx. USD 6,400).

This case is one of 36 cases brought by Thammakaset against several individuals who have expressed views and conducted advocacy on or released information relating to labour rights violations alleged to have been committed by Thammakaset. These include criminal defamation complaints against human rights defenders, including Mr. Nan Win, Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri, Ms. Ngamsuk RattanasatieanMs. Angkhana Neelapaijit, Ms. Puttanee Kangkun, and Ms. Thanaporn Saleephol.

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