Morison cleared of defamation charges

Morison cleared of defamation chargesAustralian journalist Alan Morison faced up to seven years in jail over an article claiming that some Thai navy members were involved in trafficking Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar. Photo: AAP

Two journalists, including Australian editor Alan Morison, have been cleared today of defamation charges against the Thai navy.

Mr Morison and his Thai colleague Chutima Sidasathian were facing up to two years in jail for defamation, and five years for breaching the Computer Crimes Act, over an article published on Phuket news website Phuketwan.

“This is a fantastic day for us, to be free of the weight of this charge,” Mr Morison said. “I think it’s an important result for Thai media and for the media in general.”

Ms Sidasathian believes the verdict is a step forward for press freedom in Thailand.

“The judge did the right thing, this is a big step for freedom of expression and freedom of the media in Thailand,” she said to Agence France-Presse after the verdict.

“I am happy that the court clearly said that the information we presented was useful to society and not defamatory.”

The Phuketwan article, published in July 2013, quoted from an investigation by Reuters news agency that alleged Thai navy members were paid to turn a blind eye to the trafficking of Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar. The Reuters series won a Pulitzer Prize in 2014.

Reuters, however, had not been charged over its reporting, and this was criticised by rights groups.

Chief spokesman for Reuters David Crundwell said the agency was pleased to hear that Mr Morison and Ms Sidasathian had been cleared of charges.

“Reuters wholeheartedly supports the principles of a free press, and the imperative of journalists across the world to publish independent and reliable news,” he said on the AFP website.

The navy has been given 30 days to appeal against the verdict.

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