On 18 December 2013, human rights defenders, Mr Alan Morrison and Ms Chutima Sidasathian, appeared at the Wichit police station in Phuket province relating to charges brought under section 14 (1) of the Computer Crime Act.
The two human rights defenders are accused of libel and violating the Computer Crime Act for publishing an article entitled “Thai Military Profiting from Trade and Boat people, Says Special Report”, which was published on Phuketwan website on 17 July 2013. The human rights defenders are due to appear at the police station again on 24 December 2013.
Alan Morrison and Chutima Sidasathian are journalists at Phuketwan, a local newspaper based in Phuket Province. In recent years, they have covered reports concerning the treatment of Rohingya refugees from Burma. As a result of their reporting, Phuketwan has won a number of human rights awards including ‘Best Investigative Report on Human Rights’ from the South China Morning Post in 2009.
On 16 December 2013, Chutima Sidasathian received a phone call from Wichit police station and was told that the Royal Thai Navy was issuing a legal summons to Alan Morrison and Chutima Sidasathian relating to their article published on Phuketwan website. The news article mentioned a special report released by Reuters alleging the Thai Navy’s involvement in people-trafficking along the Andaman coast, north of Phuket, and reported that Thai naval security forces work systematically with traffickers to profit from the surge of fleeing Rohingya refugees from Burma. It also reported that the Thai naval forces usually earn roughly 2,000 Baht (45 Euro) per Rohingya for spotting a boat, or for turning a blind eye to the conditions of the Immigration Centres in which the Rohingya refugees live; “in cage like cells that stank of sweat and urine”.
Section 14 (1) of the Computer Crime Act relates to “importing a computer system of forged computer data, either in whole or in part, or false computer data, in a manner that is likely to cause damage to a third party or the public”. If found guilty of this charge, Alan Morrison and Chutima Sidasathian could receive a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 Thai Baht (2,255 Euro).
Front Line Defenders is concerned at the charges brought against journalists Alan Morrison and Chutima Sidasathian as a result of exercising their right to freedom of expression. Front Line Defenders is further concerned that no translator was provided at the police station to Alan Morrison, who is an Australian national, which infringes his right to a fair judicial process. Chutima Sidasathian had to act as his interpreter during the conversations with the police.