The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is deeply concerned that the Thai Government is setting a dangerous precedent by launching its first-ever criminal lawsuit against a community radio operator.
Sathien Chanthorn, a 55-year-old former farmer of Aung Thong province, launched his 92.25 MHz station in his hometown in July 2002, when the Thai Government was promoting community broadcasting in the area.
However, the Public Relations Department (PRD) and the Post and Telegraph Department ordered him to close the station just three months later, and have charged him with illegally possessing a radio transmitter and violating the 1955 Radio Telecommunications Act.
“The IFJ has long argued that criminal law should not be used for media-related offences. On top of this, the government is charging Chanthorn under the outdated Telecommunications Act, which was enacted at a time when freedom of expression was officially stifled,” said Warren.
“The Thai Government needs to prove that it has moved out of this authoritarian era, and is willing to allow the free flow of information and communication,” said the IFJ president.
Chanthorn is representing himself in court. If he is found guilty of the charges, he could face a fine of USD $2,450 and up to five years in prison.
According to IFJ sources, many other community radio stations are currently operating without licences, but the government has singled out Chanthorn, possibly because of his attempts to stop the exploitation of flood-relief budgets for Ang Thong.
Originally, Chanthorn said government officials also tried to accuse him of defamation and undermining national security, but police and public prosecutors later dropped the charges.
“The IFJ calls on the Thai Government to drop all charges against Chanthorn. The right to operate community radio stations is guaranteed in Thailand’s 1997 constitution, and should be respected,” said the IFJ president.
Chanthorn testified in his own defence on November 3 and several high profile academics and press freedom advocates, including a senator, are expected to testify for him in the coming days.
Chanthorn’s case follows the recent closure of over 40 community radio stations across Thailand, after the government claimed the broadcasts were interfering with aviation signals.
In the past few months, 180 community radio stations were warned they were in danger of being shutdown, also on charges of disturbing aviation signals.
The IFJ has previously voiced concerns that the government used the signal disturbance allegations as an excuse to silence voices critical of the government, and fears the same motive may be behind the Chanthorn case.
For more information IFJ President Christopher Warren on +61 411 656 668
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries worldwide