Two Phuketwan journalists, including an Australian editor, were found not guilty of criminal defamation by a Thai court on Tuesday, their lawyer said, over a report implicating the kingdom’s navy in human trafficking.
They were also acquitted of another charge of breaching the Computer Crimes Act in a high-profile trial that had sparked widespread condemnation from human rights groups and the United Nations.
Alan Morison and his Thai colleague Chutima Sidasathian, of the Phuketwan news website, had faced up to seven years in jail over a July 2013 article quoting a Reuters news agency investigation 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 shortly after the verdict was delivered at Phuket Provincial Court.
“Phuketwan had only presented their [Reuter’s] information that had already been published on their website,” she added.
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 over their article.
Speaking to AFP after the verdict Chutima said: “The judge did the right thing, this is a big step for freedom of expression and freedom of the media in Thailand.”
“I am happy that the court clearly said that the information we presented was useful to society and that they were not defamatory.”
The navy has 30 days to appeal the verdict.