THE SOUTHEAST ASIAN PRESS ALLIANCE (SEAPA) has condemned the filing by Thai authorities of criminal charges against two journalists for alleged violations of the country’s controversial Computer Crimes Act.
The two journalists, Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian, work for the online tourism website Phuketwan. They were charged for quoting from an article published by the international wire agency Reuters titled “Special Report: Thai authorities implicated in Rohingya Muslim smuggling network.”
The two were summoned to appear at the Phuket police station, where they were fingerprinted, according to an alert issued by SEAPA, an association of media agencies advocating press freedom in Southeast Asia. The two journalists are scheduled to appear before the court on December 24. They face a jail term of five years and a $3,300 fine.
The SEAPA bulletin said the charges were filed by a Captain Panlob Komtonlok of the Royal Thai Navy under section 14 of Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act of 2007, and “for damaging the reputation of the service.”
“SEAPA condemns this unjustified action, which is a form of intimidation against members of the media who publish critical stories against state authorities,” the SEAPA bulletin said.
“Targeting a small online news outlet for publishing what is essentially a humanitarian story reflects a bully’s strategy to silence critics, sending a strong warning that anyone who expresses something they disapprove of will be prosecuted,” SEAPA added.
Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act is controversial because it “makes online users liable for content originally published by others,” SEAPA said. Philippine media groups and netizens have also protested against a similar law enacted by the Philippine Congress that makes netizens legally liable for reposting or even “liking” content that is found to be libelous under the country’s archaic libel laws.
The Cybercrime Act also doubles the penalty for libel done through an online medium, and provides the government sweeping powers to seize online content and equipment based merely on prima facie evidence of wrongdoing. The law has since been put on hold by the Supreme Court.
“SEAPA also reiterates the media and human rights community’s long-standing call to decriminalize defamation, in order to better uphold the right to freedom of opinion, expression, and press freedom,” the SEAPA bulletin says.