(New York) – A Thai navy lawsuit against journalists reporting on official involvement in trafficking will curtail reporting on rights violations in Thailand, Human Rights Watch said today.

 On December 16, 2013, the Thai Navy filed criminal defamation and computer crime charges against journalists for a story about abuses against ethnic Rohingya migrants in Thailand.

The charges centered on a paragraph in the Phuketwan online newspaper on July 17 citing an investigative report by Reuters alleging some navy officials “work systematically with smugglers to profit from the surge in fleeing Rohingya,” and that they earn about 2,000 baht (US$62.50) per Rohingya “for spotting a boat or turning a blind eye.”

“The Thai navy’s lawsuit is a reckless attempt to curtail journalists’ reporting on alleged human trafficking by its officers,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Unless the government withdraws the case, its impact will be felt far beyond those reporting on abuses against the Rohingya – and could have a choking effect on all investigative reporting in Thailand.”

The case was filed with the Vichit district police station in Phuket province, which issued summons for Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian at Phuketwan. On December 18, Morison and Chutima reported to the police. They denied all charges and were fingerprinted. They are due to reappear at the police station for further investigation on December 24.

If convicted on the criminal defamation charges, Morison and Chutima could be imprisoned for up to two years. Under the Computer Crime Act, they face a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of up to 100,000 baht (US$3,125).

Journalists from Reuters news agency could face similar charges connected to the original article cited by the Phuketwan article.

Human Rights Watch, along with an increasing number of governments and international authorities, believes that criminal defamation laws should be abolished, as criminal penalties are always disproportionate punishments for reputational harm and infringe on free expression. Criminal defamation laws are open to easy abuse, resulting in very harsh consequences, including imprisonment. As repeal of criminal defamation laws in an increasing number of countries shows, such laws are not necessary for the purpose of protecting reputations.

Picture Lana Willocks

The Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, an influential set of principles issued in 1996 by international legal experts, state that “No one may be punished for criticizing or insulting … public officials, … unless the criticism or insult was intended and likely to incite imminent violence.”

“The Thai navy should understand that in a democratic society, media scrutiny of the security forces must be possible,” Adams said. “The defamation suits against Morison and Chutima should be dropped immediately.”

Bangkok Post Editorial

Background and full HRW statement.


  1. Mr. Morison's tactic to bring the site international recognition appears to be right on track. Unfortunately, his years of bullying and belittling readers through the comment section will garner him vastly reduced sympathy if he is convicted.

  2. Talking about human rights, justice and free speech is a waste of time in Thailand. The feudal patronage system ensures the greedy and corrupt officials can do whatever they want without fear of sanction.

    Has anybody noticed the case of the wayward monk with his private jet, cars and suitcases of money has just disappeared. What about all those luxury cars imported without tax being paid? Who has them now I wonder?

    Then there's the clean up of Phuket where the beaches were to be freed from commercial interests and the tuk tuk's and taxi's brought under control. Nothing has happened. All these activities are controlled by corrupt officials. In many cases elected officials own these businesses.

    Nothing has happened or will happen whilst high ranking officials are making lots of money. This case involving Phuket Wan is just another attempt at silencing a whistle blower. These libel laws are the perfect tool if your corrupt and involved in shady dealings.

    What happened with the fire at Tiger disco? Anybody faced justice? Or the case of the Thai reporter gunned down in Phuket, has the mastermind even faced court yet? The resort on Phuket that is built in a national park and others that encroach on it are owned by people with direct links to a certain political party. These people are shameless.

    Then we have all the cases on this site where the courts are clogged up with frivolous cases. The whole system is hopelessly corrupt. Another election will change nothing, we'll just have the same old faces back again for another spell at the trough.

  3. The Third Navy commander, Vice Admiral Tharathorn Khajitsuwan, said that as a Thai security agency chief he could not allow any local or foreign entities to damage Thailand with false information.

    I'll tell the commander what really damages Thailand.

    When us farang's see the poor, working class people swiftly sentenced to long jail sentences after committing crimes, whilst the wealthy or politically connected either walk free or simply have their cases thrown out on appeal. At worst they get a token suspended sentence.

    When we see the pathetic excuses, scape-goating and white washing by officials when they are caught red-handed in wrongdoing. It's always someone else's fault.

    When we see sycophantic politicians trying to push through an amnesty bill that will whitewash one man's long list of crimes, pretending it is for the greater good of everyone.

    When we see police openly collecting extortion money from businesses in broad day-light and acting as if we don't see and know what they are up to.

    When us farangs are treated like we're deaf, dumb and stupid and can't see exactly what's going on. Like we're a bunch of morons who'll actually believe their lies.

    When people are sued just for having the back-bone to stand up and tell the truth instead of getting in line for their slice of the corruption pie.

    That's what really damages Thailand.

  4. Thailand is not a democratic society, nor do Thais give a damn what foreigners think. As long as the country has it world renowned prostitution industry, it can pave the streets in dog poo and 60 million can pee in the sea – and the tourists will still come.
    I've noticed in Phuket the prices for just about everything have jumped up by % 100 even on some items, and Russians, who are used to the expense, are paying happily..
    It truly is the end for the far western visitors.

Comments are closed.