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‘Not guilty’ says judge in PhuketWan Computer Crimes Act verdict

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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PHUKET: A Phuket judge dismissed the Royal Thai Navy Computer Crimes Act case against Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian, of local news blog PhuketWan, this morning.

“We’ve been waiting for two years for today. The judges have done his job,” Ms Chutima told the Phuket Gazette. “It is great to know that Thailand has freedom. This is good for Thai people and reporters. We can continue to be critical of what happens in Thailand based on facts and the truth.”

According to the court hearing, the charges against the pair stemmed from a report published on July 17, 2013, which contained excerpts from a Reuters special report alleging that some Thai naval security forces worked with human smugglers to profit from the exodus.

In April last year, Mr Morison and Ms Chutima were charged for the report and released on bail. Also charged was Big Island Media, the operators of PhuketWan.

The case was brought to court after numerous failed attempts to negotiate, confirmed Capt Pallop Komalodaka of the Royal Thai Navy, who was authorized to file the complaint to police against the suspects.

The Computer Crimes Act Section 14 states:

Whoever commits the following acts shall be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to a fine not exceeding 100,000 baht, or both:
(1) input into a computer system wholly or partially fake or false computer data that is likely to cause damage to another person or the public;
(2) input into a computer system false computer data in a manner that is likely to undermine national security or to cause public panic;
(3) input into a computer system computer data that is an offence against national security or terrorism according to the Criminal Code;
(4) input into a computer system pornographic computer data that is accessible to the public;
(5) publish or forward any computer data with the full knowledge that such computer data is under paragraph (1), (2), (3) or (4).

“The suspects published [alleged] false information, which is against the Computer Crimes Act Section 14,” Cdr Thanom Lumzaie, deputy chief of the judge advocate division of the Third Naval Area Command, explained in July. “Moreover, the information published damaged the Navy’s reputation.”

The first day of the trial was on July 14. The following day, the defence team began its case, during which Mr Morison and Ms Chutima gave their testimonies and denied the charges. On Thursday, a series of expert testimonials for the defence was heard (story here).

The five defence witnesses were: Nirun Phitakwatchara of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRC); Sawatree Suksri, law instructor at Thammasat University; Soranun Jirasurat of the Electronic Transactions Development Agency (Public Organization); Abdul Kalam, president of the Rohingya Association of Thailand; and Wannasarn Noonsuk of the School of Liberal Arts, Walailak University.

The witnesses were not cross examined by the prosecutor on either day.

“We feel a great sense of relief that the Thai judges are being so open and transparent,” Mr Morison said ahead of the verdict being announced. “To me, now that the allegations have been repeated in open court, an investigation should take place into the Reuters claims. And see whether there’s any truth in the claim or not.”

A Reuters spokesman has acknowledged the role that Ms Chutima played in the development of their Pultzer Prize winning story about the Rohingya.

“As part of writing out story, we asked Chutima to assist in arranging appointments for our journalists as part of our news gathering,” the Reuters spokesman said.

“She did not act as a Reuters journalist or stringer and her contribution to the story was limited to arranging these appointments.”

The spokesman said Reuters stands by the “fairness and accuracy of our Rohingya coverage, support the principles of a free press everywhere in the world – and the rights of journalists to go about their jobs without fear or hindrance in reporting the truth.”

Cdr Thanom Lumzaie initially filed a criminal complaint against Reuters and two of its journalists over its Rohingya coverage as well. However, the navy has not pursued the case against Reuters.

— Chutharat Plerin

 

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