Journalists Face Jail Time For Republishing Reuters' Pulitzer Prize-Winning Report

04/16/2014 12:52 pm ET
ASSOCIATED PRESS

Two journalists in Thailand will face criminal charges on Thursday for using information from the Reuters investigative piece that won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting.

Australian editor Alan Morison and Thai reporter Chutima Sidasathian are being accused of spreading false information and criminal defamation after republishing the Reuters story on their small Phuket-based news website, Phuketwan. Reuters' Jason Szep and Andrew R.C. Marshall received the Pulitzer Prize on Monday for their report on the Thai naval forces, which revealed the smuggling of Myanmar's Rohingya refugees. No legal action was taken against the Reuters journalists, CNN confirmed. Morison and Sidasathian, however, could face a total of seven years in prison for criminal defamation and thousands of dollars in fines.

Morison told Australian News that he believes the issue is due to one mistranslated paragraph 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,” Morison said.

Morison and Sidasathian reportedly said that they will go to jail for the cause of media freedom in Thailand, according to Phuketwan.

The United Nations has called for the case to be dismissed, arguing that defamation charges can have "a chilling effect on freedom of the press," CNN reported Tuesday. Human Rights Watch pressed authorities and the Thai government to focus their attention on the conditions of the Rohingya people rather than going after those who report.

"Prosecutors should be investigating the poor treatment of Rohingya boat people instead of targeting journalists," Asia director for Human Rights Watch Brad Adams said.

Reporters Without Borders also called for "the withdrawal of all proceedings" against both journalists and urged the court not to follow through with the case. The organization argued against Thailand's Computer Crimes Act, which attempts to censor any threats to national security and allows the government to arrest journalists on political grounds. The law, according to Reporters Without Borders, needs reform or it will continue to "violate" media freedom.

“Taking Phuketwan’s journalists to court is absurd,” head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk Benjamin Ismaïl said. “By using the Computer Crimes Act to intimidate journalists, the navy is just making it obvious that it wants to conceal this sensitive information and deter any comments on this humanitarian scandal."

"We urge the court not to proceed with this improper complaint,” they concluded.

Thailand currently sits at 130 out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, the organization said.

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