Charges of criminal defamation and computer crimes facing the news website Phuketwan.com are a brazen attempt to stifle investigative reporting into human rights abuses against ethnic Rohingya migrants in Thailand, PEN American Center said in a statement today.

On July 14, Phuketwan editor Alan Morison and journalist Chituma Sidasathian will go to trial on charges filed in December 2013 by a Thai navy official under criminal defamation statutes and the 2007 Computer Crimes Act. The charges stem from a 2013 story on the small independent news site that excerpted from a Reuters special report incriminating several Thai naval officers in the trafficking of Rohingya migrants fleeing ethnic cleansing in Burma for the Phuket coast. The Thai Royal Navy denies the accusations.

“This gagging of independent voices has become widespread in Thailand, where free expression violations are on the rise as the military junta tightens its grip on civil society and the media,” said Karin Karlekar, director of PEN’s Free Expression Programs. “Phuketwan is one of the only news sources in Thailand committed to pursuing the story of the Rohingya, whose plight has become a matter of urgent international concern. The government of Thailand should refocus its energies on curbing collusion in human rights abuses by members of its own navy, rather than frivolous attempts to camouflage them by shackling the press.”

The case against Morison and Sidasathian was filed under the previous civilian government, but has been kept active by the military administration that came to power following a May 2014 coup resulting in a broad crackdown on civil society and individual expressions of dissent. If convicted, the Phuketwan journalists face up to seven years in prison and fines of $3,010 USD each.

“The case predates the military takeover,” editor Alan Morison said in a statement this week, “but the disinclination to end it speedily and honorably will inevitably create even greater concern about whether this government can tolerate a free media—and how it plans to permanently end the extortion and torture of the Rohingya Muslims.”

###

Founded in 1922, PEN American Center is an association of 4,000 U.S. writers working to bring down barriers to free expression worldwide. www.pen.org

 

 

CONTACT
Karin Karlekar, Director of Free Expression Programs: kdkarlekar@pen.org, (646) 779.4822
Sarah Edkins, Deputy Director for Communications: sedkins@pen.org, (646) 779.4830