Yesterday evening, the news media and citizens in Melbourne heard first hand about the lawsuit the Royal Thai Navy has launched against two Phuket journalists. Chutima Sidasathian spoke to the Australians, and took their questions. It won't be known immediately what this hub of Australian journalism thinks. But it is probably safe to say that news of the defamation lawsuit against Chutima and her Australian colleague Alan Morison will not impress their colleagues down under.
The navy claims in its criminal suit that a Phuketwan report late last year harmed the reputation of the force. Senior officers in Phuket have cited a specific part of the Phuketwan story. It referred to allegations that security forces have mistreated Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. But the navy has not actually brought charges against the news team that reported such allegations. Chutima and Morison passed on reports from others.
Legally, the navy has the right to bring the charges. Repeating a defamatory statement is equal under the law with making it in the first place. But the Phuketwan case raises questions about just why the navy has gone after the Phuketwan news team so very strongly. It is one of several wrong signals that the Phuket naval officers have given in the case of the Rohingya allegations. Bringing the full power of state prosecution against a small website is the navy's legal right, but it is also the right of observers to question whether it is a giant case of overkill.
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