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Computer crimes in Thailand - the case of Phuketwan.com

By April 17, 2014

PHUKET: Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian of the news website Phuketwan.com have been tireless in their investigations of the treatment of Rohingya migrants, who -- it is well documented -- escape violence and hardship in Burma only to end up in virtual prison camps at the mercy of human traffickers in Southern Thailand. In a strange twist of fate, tomorrow (April 17), the Phuketwan reporting duo might end up as prisoners themselves.

Alan & Chutima speaking at a local seminar, Phuket Town.
On the eve of Phuketwan’s court date in Phuket Town, where they’re set to defend themselves against criminal defamation and Computer Crimes charges, there’s been a flurry of news and commentary from around the world. If convicted, Alan and Chutima face jail time of up to 7 years and a fine of 100,000 baht (about $3,300 US).

Chutima "Oi" taking/making calls over lunch.
The charges stem from a paragraph taken from a Reuters investigation into Thai officials' involvement in the Rohingya smuggling trade that Phuketwan published in an article in July 2013. The story was one of several Reuters stories highlighting the plight of the Rohingya in Burma and Thailand.

Busy reporter, but Alan always finds time for a Singha.
By chance, earlier this week Reuters editors and reporters were popping celebratory Champagne following the announcement that these very same reports had earned the news agency a Pulitzer Prize. But so far Reuters has remained silent on the case of Phuketwan v the Navy.

Here's a rundown of the reactions and reports:

AAP
Australian journalist Alan Morrison faces Thai jail time [and his Thai colleague Chutima, let’s not forget!]
“This is a little bit about Thai Navy payback where Phuketwan has been a thorn in the side of the Navy for many years in the handling of the Rohingya and the Navy is determined to put them through the wringer,” [Human Rights Watch deputy Asia Director Phil] Robertson told AAP.

Voice of America
Thailand Charges Journalists for Human Trafficking Report
"I have no doubt about it.  I am sure the manner in which [Chutima] has helped open up the Rohingya story to the international organizations is one of the reasons for this prosecution. She has been the person who has, I guess, singularly opened up the Rohingya story to international media attention," [Morison] said.

Agence France-Presse
Journalists who cited report on Thai military's alleged link to people smuggling face jail
"We won't apply for bail, this is a bad law and it is an issue of the freedom of the press. This should not happen to the media in a democratic country," [Chutima] said ahead of the hearing.

Asian Correspondent – Bangkok Pundit
Pulitzer Prize, Reuters, Rohingya, The Navy, and Phuketwan
“It is somewhat curious that the Navy didn’t sue Reuters, but then again it makes perfect sense. Reuters are a big organization with lots of resources; Phuketwan aren’t. Pick on the small guy and make an example of them for others.”

Asian Correspondent - Casey Hynes
Phuketwan journalists face jail over reprint of Pulitzer-winning story
“That the government is going ahead with this case at all, rather than commending all involved for exposing a potential case of extreme corruption and abuse of power, casts a stain on the country.”

Andrew Drummond
REUTERS IN ROW OVER ROHINGYA PULITZER PRIZE - STAFF DRINK CHAMPAGNE WHILE RESEARCHERS SURRENDER
“Morison and Sidasathian themselves have won five awards for ‘investigative journalism’, ‘human rights protection’ and ‘Scoop of the Year’ in conjunction with the South China Morning Post – all of the awards have been for their work on the Rohingyas. They have been the 'to go to' journalists on the Rohingya issue.”

Reporters Without Borders
Call for withdrawal of charges against Phuketwan journalists
“Taking Phuketwan’s journalists to court is absurd,” said Benjamin Isma├»l, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk. “If the navy want to dispute the Reuters special report, which has just won a Pulitzer Prize, it can publicly give its version of events and demand the right of reply.”

Thompson Reuters Foundation
Thailand - Call for withdrawal of charges against Phuketwan journalists
A republishing of the Reporters Without Borders article with this note at the top: “Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.”

Melbourne Press Club – Lindsay Murdoch
Pulitzer Prize leaves Thai navy high and dry
“Phuket’s public prosecutor Wiwat Kijjaruk told reporters last week there was enough evidence to proceed ‘even though the two said they just republished an article from Reuters…they should have checked the facts before doing so.’ … The case raises the issue of legal protection for subscribers of the Reuters service for Thai stories.”

CNN International
U.N. condemns Thai court case against journalists over people trafficking report
“Thailand's Computer Crimes Act aims to stop the spread of content believed to threaten national security or create panic, but it has attracted criticism from freedom of speech advocates and internet providers for making online users liable for reproducing material originally published by others.”

Phuketwan
Time For Reuters to Speak Up on Media Freedom, Says Phuket Journalist Facing Jail
“For four months now, Reuters has remained silent on the issue of Phuketwan being charged over a Reuters paragraph. It's time they spoke out, as many other organisations have done.”

Democratic Voice of Burma
‘Boatpeople’ story lands Reuters a Pulitzer as local reporters face jail
“The comparison couldn’t be more stark,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Human Rights Watch (HRW) Asia Division, “on one side of the world, Reuters journalists win media’s top prize for revealing abuses against Rohingya boatpeople while in Thailand, the Thai Navy files serious criminal charges against a small website for simply re-printing the story.”

The Age - Fairfax Media
Australian faces jail for coverage of same story that won Reuters a Pulitzer prize
“No action has been taken against Reuters, one of the world’s largest news agencies, over the story that was published in July last year. The London-based company has declined to comment on the case against Mr Morison and Ms Chutima, who say they are prepared to go to jail to defend media freedom in Thailand, where defamation laws are being increasingly used to silence criticism.”

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