Reporters charged with defamation remanded on bail in Thailand

PHUKET, Thailand Thu Apr 17, 2014 7:17am EDT

Alan Morison (R), an Australian, and Thai national Chutima Sidasathian, reporters for the Phuketwan news website, speak to media as they arrive to a criminal court in Phuket April 17, 2014. REUTERS/stringer

Alan Morison (R), an Australian, and Thai national Chutima Sidasathian, reporters for the Phuketwan news website, speak to media as they arrive to a criminal court in Phuket April 17, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/stringer

PHUKET, Thailand (Reuters) - Two journalists were remanded on bail in Thailand on Thursday on charges of criminal defamation and other offences in connection with a story they published on the trafficking of Muslim minority Rohingya people from Myanmar.

Alan Morison, an Australian, and Thai national Chutima Sidasathian published a story last July for the Phuketwan news website about Rohingya boat people who had fled Myanmar and were mostly trying to get to Malaysia.

Their story contained excerpts from a Reuters Special Report that detailed how some Thai naval security forces worked with people smugglers to profit from the exodus.

A criminal court on the island of Phuket in the south of Thailand, where the news website is based, ruled the case against the two journalists should proceed and set the first hearing for May 26.

They were detained for some hours while bail was processed.

"I still feel defiled in my professional capacity as a journalist by the whole thing ... It's more than an indignation to spend more than four hours in jail," Morison told Reuters.

Two Reuters journalists, Jason Szep and Andrew R.C. Marshall, won a Pulitzer prize on Monday for a year-long series of stories on the Rohingya written from Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia.

The complaint against Phuketwan was filed by a naval officer based in Phuket.

The officer has also filed a criminal complaint against Reuters, Szep and another Reuters journalist, Stuart Grudgings, alleging violations of the Computer Crimes Act. The complaint is believed to be under review by Thai authorities, a Reuters spokeswoman said on Thursday in an e-mailed response to questions.

Reuters has not been charged and stands by its reporting, she said.

"Our story was the product of extensive reporting and is fair, balanced and contextualized," the spokeswoman said.

The Phuketwan journalists face up to two years in prison on the defamation charges and five years for offences under the Computer Crimes Act.

"We oppose the use of criminal laws to sanction the press - large or small, local or international - for publishing stories on matters of serious public interest," the Reuters spokeswoman said.

Most of the estimated 800,000 Rohingya in Myanmar are regarded by the authorities as illegal immigrants. The Muslim Rohingya in the western Rakhine State have borne the brunt of religious violence that erupted in June 2012 and a growing number have sought to leave Myanmar.

Muslims make up about 5 percent of Myanmar's estimated 60 million people, who are predominantly Buddhist.

(Writing by Alan Raybould; Editing by Simon Webb)

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