The New York-based rights group, Human Rights Watch, is calling for the Thai government to drop charges of criminal defamation against Australian journalist, Alan Morison.


The editor of online news website Phuketwan and his Thai reporter, Chutima Sidasathian, are facing long prison sentences if convicted.

Morison and Chutima face up to two years imprisonment on criminal defamation charges with a further maximum sentence of five years and fines of 100,000 Baht ($A4000) under Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act.

The charges relate to a July 2013 Phuketwan report, which re-published excerpts from a Reuters newsagency report alleging Thai security force involvement in the smuggling of Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar (Burma).

Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, called for the case to be dropped, in a comment marking a year since the charges were laid.

“The Thai authorities should direct the navy to unconditionally drop its baseless charges against the two journalists,” Adams said.

“This effort to silence media criticism has backfired against the navy, which should act swiftly to cut its losses.”

The report was part of a Reuters investigative series on the plight of the Rohingya, a stateless and oppressed minority in Myanmar.

The Reuters journalists were later awarded a Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism.

Human Rights Watch pressed for the abolition of criminal defamation laws, saying the penalties were disproportionate punishments for reputational harm and infringe on free expression.

“The Phuketwan journalists are among the few who are still regularly reporting on the pervasive human trafficking of Rohingya in Thailand,” Adams said in a statement.

“Thailand’s efforts to show progress in tackling human trafficking are seriously damaged by this shoot-the-messenger action against journalists exposing abuses.”.

High level behind-the-scenes talks have been underway between Australian representatives and senior Thai government foreign affairs officials.

But sources say progress has slowed, with both sides giving little ground and the Thai navy pressing the journalists to acknowledge culpability.

The journalists are scheduled to go to trial on July 14.