Two journalists, including an Australian editor, have been found not guilty of criminal defamation by a Thai court over a report implicating the kingdom’s navy in human trafficking.
Their lawyer said they were also acquitted of another charge of breaching the Computer Crimes Act in a high-profile trial that has sparked widespread condemnation from human rights groups and the United Nations.
Alan Morison, and his Thai colleague Chutima Sidasathian, of the Phuketwan news website, faced up to seven years in jail over a July 2013 article quoting an investigation by the Reuters news agency, which said some Thai navy members were involved in trafficking Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar.
“The court has acquitted (the pair),” their lawyer Siriwan Vongkietpaisan said.
“Phuketwan had only presented their (Reuter’s) information that had already been published on their website.”
The verdict comes after the region’s grim people-smuggling trade was dramatically laid bare this year when migrants were abandoned at sea and in jungle death camps by traffickers following a Thai crackdown, a crisis that eventually forced Southeast Asian governments to respond.
The two journalists had been facing up to two years in jail for criminal defamation and five years for breaching the Computer Crimes Act after the navy sued Phuketwan for defamation in response to their article.
Reuters has not been charged over its reporting – part of a series honoured with a Pulitzer Prize last year – and rights groups have accused the navy of trying to muzzle the smaller Phuket-based English-language media outlet.
Last month – for the second year in a row – Thailand was placed by the US on the bottom tier of its ranking of countries failing to tackle human trafficking alongside nations like Iran, Libya, North Korea and Syria.