Thai public broadcaster and staff face criminal defamation proceedings

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) asks a Bangkok Criminal Court to reject a complaint by the mining company Tungkum Ltd against Thai Public Broadcasting Service (Thai PBS) and four of its current and former employees over a TV report broadcast in September 2015 about alleged environmental pollution.

RSF also calls for the repeal of Thailand’s criminal defamation law and the Computer Crime Act.

The court is due to deliver a preliminary decision tomorrow on the merits of the Tungkum’s criminal defamation suit and the allegation of a Computer Crime Act violation by Thai PBS. If the court gives the go-ahead, the four journalists will face the possibility of up to five years in prison or a fine of 200,000 baht (5,200 euros) or both.

The four journalists who could stand trial are Thai PBS reporter Wirada Saelim, director of information Korkhet Chantalertluk, department of television and radio director Yothin Sitthibodeekul and former director general Somchai Suwanbun.

Tungkum, which has been mining gold in the northeastern province of Loei since 2006, filed its suit in November 2015. Claiming that the Thai PBS report – in which a 15-year- old schoolgirl discussed the impact of the open-pit gold mine on six villages in the region – had damaged its reputation, the company is seeking 50 million baht (1.3 million euros) in damages and withdrawal Thai PBS’s license for five years.

We ask the Bangkok Criminal Court to dismiss both the defamation action and the accusation of an infringement of the Computer Crime Act (as amended), which is yet again being used to the detriment of freedom of the media and information,” said Benjamin Ismail, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “The justice system should not let itself be used by a private company whose sole aim is to embroil its critics in long and costly legal proceedings.

If the court decides to hear the case then, under Thai law, the trial on the charge of infringing the Computer Crime Act could continue even if Tungkum withdrew its defamation action, and the four journalists could continue to face the possibility of long jail terms.

Ismail added: “Tungkum’s lawsuit is nothing more than a desperate attempt to intimidate all those who might try to draw attention to the environmental impact of its mining activities in the region. If its directors truly care about its image, they should examine the allegations by the citizens of Loei province, withdraw their suit and consider more appropriate alternatives such as the right of reply or mediation.

Tungkum has also filed six criminal defamation actions against members of the Khon Rak Ban Kerd Group (KRBKG), a community group that is trying to protect and rehabilitate the local environment and is campaigning for the closure of the Tungkum mine in Loei province.

Local residents staging a protest outside the mine were physically attacked by thugs in May 2014, while the police failed to intervene despite urgent appeals by the protesters. The mining company was alleged to have been behind the violent reprisals.

Thailand is ranks 136th out of 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index.

See Joint Press Statement signed by 14 organisation in support of Thai PBS :

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Updated on 23.08.2019