Thai lawyer drops crim­i­nal defama­tion case against BBC re­porter

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Front Page -

A THAI lawyer has with­drawn a crim­i­nal defama­tion case against a Bri­tish BBC jour­nal­ist in­volv­ing a re­port on for­eign­ers be­ing de­frauded of prop­erty, the BBC says.

The case against Jonathan Head, BBC’S South East Asia cor­re­spon­dent, had be­gun Wed­nes­day and has been crit­i­cised as an ex­am­ple of how Thai­land’s harsh crim­i­nal defama­tion laws can be used to in­tim­i­date jour­nal­ists.

“The plain­tiff has with­drawn his case against BBC jour­nal­ist Jonathan Head, but as the trial of his co-de­fen­dant is con­tin­u­ing, we can­not com­ment fur­ther at pre­sent,” the BBC said in a state­ment later.

Head had re­ported about a Bri­tish ex­pa­tri­ate whose Thai wife al­legedly de­frauded him of prop­er­ties on the south­ern re­sort is­land of Phuket by forg­ing his sig­na­ture on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions.

The crim­i­nal com­plaint against Head and the ex­pa­tri­ate, Ian Rance, was brought by lawyer Prat­uan Tha­narak, who says he was de­famed by an al­le­ga­tion in the re­port that he had no­tarised Rance’s forged sig­na­ture, al­low­ing the wife to trans­fer prop­er­ties.

If found guilty, Head could have faced up to two years in prison for on­line crim­i­nal defama­tion and five years un­der a law reg­u­lat­ing on­line con­tent. Rance is charged with crim­i­nal defama­tion, which car­ries a oneyear max­i­mum sen­tence.

Prat­uan’s com­plaint said the BBC re­port caused the pub­lic to per­ceive him as a “de­ceit­ful lawyer” and “an un­eth­i­cal lawyer.”

In Fe­bru­ary, the Amer­i­can-based Com­mit­tee to Pro­tect Jour­nal­ists called for an end to the use in Thai­land of crim­i­nal defama­tion charges against jour­nal­ists.

“The use of crim­i­nal defama­tion com­plaints in Thai­land has a chill­ing ef­fect on jour­nal­ists who fear be­ing bogged down in time-con­sum­ing and ex­pen­sive lit­i­ga­tion,” Shawn Crispin, CPJ’S se­nior South East Asia rep­re­sen­ta­tive, said in a state­ment.

The state­ment also men­tioned a 2013 crim­i­nal defama­tion case filed by the Royal Thai Navy against Phuket­wan, a small news web­site, for re­pub­lish­ing a Reuters re­port that Thai naval forces had prof­ited from traf­fick­ing eth­nic Ro­hingya. Phuket­wan was forced to close for fi­nan­cial rea­sons dur­ing the trial, with one of its re­porters say­ing he had spent nearly one-third of his work time pre­par­ing his de­fence and that lo­cal ad­ver­tis­ers had stopped buy­ing ads on Phuket­wan for fear of gov­ern­ment reprisals, the state­ment said.

Ear­lier this month, a prom­i­nent Thai jour­nal­ist was charged with sedi­tion and vi­o­la­tion of the coun­try’s com­puter law for on­line post­ings con­cern­ing pol­i­tics. – AP

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