An Australian journalist set to face a Thai court on charges of criminal defamation and computer crimes says the Royal Thai Navy aims to shut down his website over its reporting on human trafficking and alleged ties to Thai security forces.
Alan Morison, 66, formerly of Melbourne and editor of the Phuketwan website, is to face court on Thursday along with local reporter Chutima Sidasathian.
Both could face five years in jail for computer crimes and two years for defamation.
The charges, brought by the Royal Thai Navy, follow Phuketwan’s republishing of a Reuters newsagency report last year that alleged Thai security forces, including navy and police personnel, were linked in the smuggling of Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar.
The Reuters’ reporters, Jason Szep and Andrew Marshall, were this week awarded the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting over their coverage of the Rohingya trafficking.
The original story was also republished in other Thai media outlets, but only Phuketwan was targeted for prosecution.
Phuketwan has long reported on the Rohingyas’ plight and allegations of abuse and trafficking by human smuggler gangs.
Morison said the issue lay in one paragraph from the original Reuters story that was mistranslated by the Royal Thai Navy.
“It’s a paragraph in which the Royal Thai Navy wasn’t mentioned in the original English version, and yet in the Thai version that was presented to police the Royal Thai Navy is mentioned three times,” he said.
“This is indicative of a set-up I would say. And we have no doubt that the Royal Thai Navy is out to shut down Phuketwan,” he told AAP.
He said Chutima had also played a key role in assisting the Reuters reporters in covering the story and had also worked for other news organisations pursuing the trafficking of the Rohingya.
“(Chutima)’s been the person who has I guess singularly opened up the Rohingya story to international media attention,” he said.
Morison said the charges against Phuketwan stemmed directly from Chutima’s and his assistance to foreign reporters covering the Rohingya stories.
US-based Human Rights Watch deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said the Thai Navy was looking to pressure Phuketwan over their reporting on the Rohingya issue.
“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,” Robertson told AAP.