I have recently been sent the following very disturbing story:
Alan Morison is a former senior editor of the Melbourne newspaper, The Age. For approximately a decade he has been the owner and editor of an online news service called Phuketwan, which is based in Phuket, Thailand. Chutima Sidasathian is one of his reporters and a colleague.
Alan and Chutima have (along with other reporters and NGOs) been at the forefront of reporting of human trafficking of the Rohingya from Burma through Thailand and into Malaysia, as well reporting on other human rights abuses against them. They have also helped larger news services such as Reuters by providing vital contacts for their stories.
They feature in the recent 4 Corners episode dealing with Rohingyan refugees who are smuggled through Thailand: http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2015/06/22/4257490.htm
In December 2013 the Royal Thai Navy charged both Alan and Chutima with criminal defamation and a breach of the Computer Crimes Act for reprinting verbatim and in quotation marks, a 44-word paragraph from a Reuters story. That paragraph read:
“The Thai naval forces usually earn about 2000 baht per Rohingya for spotting a boat or turning a blind eye, said the smuggler, who works in the southern Thai region of Phang Nga [north of Phuket] and deals directly with the navy and police.”
They were charged 5 months after the article appeared.
The paragraph does not even name the Royal Thai Navy but refers to “Thai naval forces.” Unfortunately, the translator for the Royal Thai Navy elected to translate the words “Thai naval forces” to “Royal Thai Navy”
The vague term “Thai naval forces” is apt to describe the Thai Marine Police, militia commanders as well as the Royal Thai Navy. But a bad translation has resulted in Alan and Chutima being charged with criminal defamation and a breach of the Computer Crimes Act.
Neither Reuters nor any of the other news services which have run the story have been charged: only the journalists have been charged. They face the prospect of 7 years in a Thai jail.
Please let your local Federal MP know you are concerned for the way Alan and Chutima are being treated. Do what you can to make sure that Thailand (which depends significantly on the West) knows that their handling of this case is being closely watched.