Australian, Thai journalists' smuggling report trial begins

Australian journalist Alan Morison and Thai national Chutima Sidasathian are accused of defaming the Thai navy.

Australian, Thai journalists' smuggling report trial begins

World Bulletin / News Desk

The trial of two journalists accused of defaming the Thai navy in a 2013 report on the smuggling of Rohingya through southern Thailand began Tuesday at Phuket criminal court with defense lawyers questioning prosecution arguments.

Benjamin Ismail, ‎the head of the Asia-Pacific desk for Reporters Without Borders told Anadolu Agency that the defence's cross-examination of prosecution witnesses showed that there are "many holes in the plaintiffs’ argumentation.”

“On a technical point, Thailand's Computer Crime Act requires that the person who has personally inserted the incriminated article online be identified, and the prosecution was unable to do it,” he added, after attending Tuesday’s hearing.

The defense also underlined Tuesday that Reuters news agency was not charged – although a complaint has been filed against it and an investigation is ongoing – despite it being the source of the controversial paragraph at the heart of the case.

“Overall, the prosecution testimonies have been strongly eroded by the defense,” said Ismail.

On trial are Alan Morison, a 67 year-old veteran Australian journalist and editor of news website Phuketwan, and Chutima Sidasathian, a 34-year-old Thai journalist working for the website.

Both are accused of breaching the Computer Crimes Act and libelling the Thai navy for reproducing a paragraph from a Reuters report in an article published July 2013 on the website.

The excerpt quoted a human smuggler saying how some Navy officers benefitted from the smuggling of Rohingya through Thailand.

They are liable to a cumulated maximum jail-sentence of seven years.

On the eve of the trial, Morison and Sidasathian told the Bangkok Post that they won’t apologize for the article, because “they had done nothing wrong”.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement Tuesday that “the real message of this trial to Thailand’s journalists is report at your own risk because big brother in Bangkok is watching.”

The NGO is one of a number of rights groups who have asked Thai authorities to drop charges against the two journalists.

The United Nations Human Rights Office for Southeast Asia also voiced its concerns Tuesday. 

“As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Thailand has the obligation to uphold the right to freedom of expression,” it said in a statement.

“We urge Thai authorities to drop the charges,” it added.

Although a small news outlet, Phuketwan has been a leading source of information on the smuggling of Rohingya through southern Thailand.

In 2009, it broke a story about numerous Rohingya dying after their vessel was pushed back to sea off the coast of southern Thailand.

Phuketwan’s reports, as well as a series of reports from Myanmar, Malaysia and Thailand by Reuters – which won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage – have uncovered the extent of human smuggling and trafficking of Rohingya through southern Thailand.

The trial of the two journalists will last until Friday.

A verdict is due in one month.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 14 Temmuz 2015, 16:02