BBC reporter charged with insulting the king

New York, December 24, 2008 - The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns
the ongoing legal harassment of BBC correspondent Jonathan Head. Police Lt.
Col. Wattanasak Mungkandee filed a third criminal complaint this year
against Head on December 23, alleging he had insulted the Thai monarchy in
his reporting.

The latest charges are related to a December 3 article in which Head
speculated that the royal palace and figures close to the palace may have
provided tacit backing to the anti-government protest group the People's
Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which laid siege to Bangkok's main
international and domestic airports from November 26 to December 3.

Thai law allows any citizen to bring complaints against anyone they believe
has insulted the country's monarchy. Wattanasak has brought all three
complaints against Head in his personal capacity rather than as a senior
ranking police official, according to Head. Violations of lese majeste laws
are a criminal offense in Thailand, punishable by three to 15 years
imprisonment.

"It is time for prosecutors and investigators in Thailand to immediately
drop these outrageous and punitive charges against our colleague Jonathan
Head," said Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia program coordinator. "Head's reporting
has raised important questions about Thailand's deteriorating political
situation and he should be allowed to report without fear of official
reprisals."

Head told CPJ that investigating police officials had requested a DVD
recording of a Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) (
http://www.fccthai.com ) event on December 9 titled "The State of Politics
and the Way Forward for Thailand", at which members of a pro-government
group made reference to Head's reporting. The FCCT announced today that it
was suspending sales of that particular event's recording. In an e-mail
statement, the FCCT's executive board said that "DVD recordings of Club
events had been misused by certain individuals with their own agendas, in a
way that compromises the free speech values the media community and the
FCCT stand for."

Local and foreign journalists have been under attack (
http://cpj.org/2008/06/thai-prime-minister-urged-to-halt-harassment.php )
this year as a political crisis led to three changes of government in as
many months. Head, a well-respected figure in Thai journalism, has
specifically been targeted (
http://cpj.org/2008/06/bbc-reporter-faces-legal-harassment-in-thailand.php
). The first complaint against Head was filed on April 9, and was related
to comments the reporter made in December 2007 while moderating another
event at the FCCT, titled "Coup, Capital, and Crown." The discussion
touched on the monarchy's role in Thai society in light of the 2006
military coup. The second complaint against Head, filed on May 30, included
charges that his reporting over a two-year period had "intended to
criticize the monarchy several times" and that "his writings have damaged
and insulted the reputation of the monarchy," according to an
English-language translation of the charges obtained by CPJ.

The May 30 complaint against Head cited 11 different articles from the
BBC's Web site, several of which he did not author. Thai authorities have
in recent months cracked down on hundreds of Web sites for posting
materials considered offensive to the monarchy. Both the complaints are
still pending.

CPJ is a New York-based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to
safeguard press freedom worldwide.

For further information on the previous complaints against Head, see:
http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/94310