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Press briefing notes on Thailand/Criminal defamation

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani
Location: Geneva
Date: 26 December 2013

We are seriously concerned that charges of criminal defamation have been brought against two journalists based in Phuket, Thailand, for an article on the reported involvement of Thai naval security forces in smuggling Rohingya asylum seekers. Criminal prosecution for defamation has a chilling effect on freedom of the press, and international standards are clear that imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty for defamation.

Editor Alan Morison and reporter Chutima Sidasathian have also been charged for breaching the Computer Crimes Act for publishing the online article that cites an investigative report by Reuters on the smuggling of Rohingya asylum seekers. The charges were filed by the Royal Thai Navy. The article was published in Phuketwan, a small English-language newspaper based in Phuket, on 17 July 2013.

Phuketwan has been a leading source of information on the plight of Rohingya asylum seekers in Thailand, investigating and reporting on the issue since 2008. Increasing numbers of Rohingya individuals have been fleeing persecution in Myanmar, often ending up in the hands of smugglers or traffickers, allegedly with the support or involvement of security forces from both sides of the border.

The media plays an essential role in imparting information and promoting transparency and accountability on this important issue. The criminal charges against Mr. Morison and Ms. Sidasathian could have serious implications on Phuketwan’s future operations, possibly compromising its ability to report on issues related to Rohingya asylum seekers to the public. If convicted, Mr. Morison and Ms Sidassathian face up to two years' imprisonment on the criminal defamation charges and five years in prison for breaching the Computer Crimes Act, as well as fines of up to 100,000 baht (USD3,125).

We urge the Government of Thailand to drop the charges against Mr. Morison and Ms Sidasathian and to ensure the freedom of the press in the country.

ENDS

For further information and media requests, please contact:
Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 or +41 79 201 01 15 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org)
Liz Throssell (+41 79 752 04 88/ ethrossell@ohchr.org )

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