Trial Monitoring: Thailand defamation trial

Today, Australian journalist, Alan Morison and Thai journalist, Chutima Sidasathian will start their three day (14-16 July) trial on defamation charges at the Phuket Provincial Court in Thailand. The pair were charged with criminal defamation on April 17, 2014 under articles 326 and 328 of the Thai Criminal Code and were also charged with ; and violation of article 14(1) of the Computer Crimes Act. The charges relate to the reproduction on phuketwan.com of a single paragraph from a Reuters special report on Rohingya boat-people published in July 2013. Reuters subsequently won a Pulitzer Prize for the investigation in 2014.

For more background click here

September 1, 2015: 

BREAKING NEWS: 

Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian acquitted on all charges. 

<img src="http://www.ifj.trynisis.com/fileadmin/images/twitter_Morison.jpg" width="350" height="450" alt="Acquittal" />

July 17, 2015: 

Summary from Australian Barrister and IFJ and MEAA observer, Mark Plunkett for the final day of the trial: 

This is to advise that the evidence in the criminal defamation trial of PhuketWan news, Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian has closed and adjourned to 1 September 2015 for a verdict.

Again for the second day the prosecution team did not attend leaving unchallenged the evidence from a futher five witnesses.

The five witnesses today gave evidence as to the intention behind the publication as honest, the Computer Crimes Act was confined to hacking and malicious software type offences, an expert interpretation of the words in the Reuters story was "Thai Naval Forces" consisting of many on water Thai agencies including the Royal Thai Navy. 

A Rohingya person was called who gave heresay evidence of Thai Nagy complicity in human trafficking, so as to establish the public interest element in the publication.

At the conclusion of the evidence the consensus was that the accused had good prospects for acquittal.

It was also the view of the observers and the accused that the trial as observed thus far was fair.

July 16, 2015: 

SEAPA have just tweeted that the trial is over. 

<img src="http://www.ifj.trynisis.com/fileadmin/user_upload/filelist/SEAPA_tweet.png" width="350" height="250" alt="SEAPA" />

July 16, 2015: 

Breakfast before Day 3, the final day of the trial. 

<img src="http://www.ifj.trynisis.com/fileadmin/user_upload/filelist/Day_3_Amos1.JPG" width="350" height="450" alt="Day 3 breakfast" />

July 15, 2015: 

Alan Morison with Chutima Sidasathian and their legal team outside court following Day 2. Alan is hoisting his 1983 Walkley Award which his lawyers produced as evidence that he was a journalist and following the photo, he gifted the award to his legal team as a token of thanks. 

<img src="http://www.ifj.trynisis.com/fileadmin/user_upload/filelist/Walkley.png" width="350" height="450" alt="Walkley" />

July 15, 2015: 

Summary from Australian Barrister and IFJ and MEAA observer, Mark Plunkett for the morning session today: 

Extraordinary developments at the outset of the second day of the PhuketWan criminal defamation trial, with the public prosecutor deciding not to attend as the defendants give evidence.

Alan Morison has completed evidence explaining the source of the controversial sentence as from Reuters and there being no reference to the Royal Thai Navy.

July 15, 2015:

Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian outside court for Day Two. 

<img src="http://www.ifj.trynisis.com/fileadmin/user_upload/filelist/Amos_Roberts_Day_2.jpg" width="350" height="450" alt="Day 2" />

July 15, 2015:

A photo of Alan Morison, Chutima Sidasathian and others enjoying breakfast before the trial started on Tuesday. 

<img src="http://www.ifj.trynisis.com/fileadmin/user_upload/filelist/Andy_Hall_Day_1.jpg" width="450" height="350" alt="Breakfast Day 1" />

July 15, 2015: 

A cartoon about the trial.

<img src="http://www.ifj.trynisis.com/fileadmin/user_upload/filelist/Thai_cartoon_Chutima.jpg" width="450" height="350" alt="Thai cartoon" />

July 14, 2015: 

Summary of the afternoon session from the trial, by IFJ and MEAA observer, Barrister Mark Plunkett:

Three police were called, a computer technical police man, who gave evidence of the ownership of Phuketwan web site, its location and the publication of the offending news article on that site, the investigating officer who received the Navy complaint and the interviewing police officer.

Each was carefully cross examined by counsel for each of the three defendants.  

The judge also took an active involvement in questioning.

The upshot was that it was put by the defence that no one person was identified by the article, no damage has been shown to any person, the Thai Navy was not named, there are other naval forces, there was no seizure of the computers, no proof of Alan or Chatimai posting the story, and none of the prosecution witness had correctly translated the English language publication into Thai. 

The key point however is that in any event the one sentence reproduced from the Reuters story were the words of Reuters as reported in quotation marks and not the words of the defendants. 

The prosecution case closed at end of day. The defence case is expected to open in the morning.

Alan and Chatimai are bearing up well and strongly supported by members of the public and observers. 

It was the consensus of the observing lawyers that the Court proceedings are being conducted openly, carefully, conscientiously and fairly.

It is rather the criminalization of free speech and reliance on mangling the ambitious wording of the Computer Crimes Act to persecute journalists, researchers and political activists that is unfair.

It is clear journalism itself is on trial in this case and somewhat silly having a solemn and vigorous analysis of a 24 word sentence from a wire service repeated around the world where neither Reuters is charged not any of the other news organs that repeated the news feed.

It is ironic that the Naval Officer and the police all expressed respect for the accused.

The statistics for high conviction rates notwithstanding, the accused have a real chance of acquittal.

July 14, 2015: 

Summary of the morning session from the trial, by IFJ and MEAA observer, Barrister Mark Plunkett:

Today's hearing opened with judge asking Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian if the offending passage in the the publication the subject of the charge was sourced and cited from Reuters and was it in quotation marks - to which the answers were in the affirmative.

The prosecution called the first of Royal Thai Navy Captain Panlob Komtonlok whose job it is to monitor media about the Royal Thai Navy.  

He saw the article in Phuketwan of 5 December 2013 and sought legal advice before being authorized to complain to the police for the institution of a prosecution against the journalists who wrote the story containing the offending Reuters sentence of 41 words.

In the best tradition of an independent Bar the defense is represented by 8 barristers against the prosecution barrister of one.

There was no evidence of damage to any one thus far.

The other issue was the alleged defamation was about "Thai naval forces" not the "Thai Royal Navy" as there are other maritime forces. 

So identification of an actual wounded victim is an issue.

There are 3 police witnesses after lunch.

July 14, 2015: 

The IFJ wrote to Thai Prime Minister, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, requesting his personal intervention in the case of Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian. We requested that he have the charges immediately dropped, as they put in question the development of independent and professional journalism in Thailand. 

Read the letter here

July 13, 2015: 

The IFJ and South East Asian Journalists Union (SEAJU) released a statement calling for the charges to be dropped and highlighted how the trial was a gross violation of freedom of expression and the rights of all media in Thailand. 

Read more here