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Criminal defamation SLAPP in the face for Thai media – Asia Times

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Thailand’s scrambled media have been given an unsubtle kick in the pants by a senior official in the Office of the Attorney General. Deputy spokesman Narong Srirasan, taking part in a Thai PBS program on Monday, publicly thanked a team from the global Aljazeera network for flying in to cover a community-banking scandal. 

The scandal melds banking corruption with the growing menace of the overuse of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) legislation. The AG official’s comments followed the two-day trial of acclaimed journalist and whistleblower Chutima Sidasathian on three of nine potential charges of criminal defamation, brought by a subdistrict mayor in the province of Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat) over Facebook posts. 

Also read: Is a Thai national bank covering up robbery of its own money?

One of the Facebook posts concerned the activities of another local politician and the prime minister in 2012, before the mayor was elected. But the mayor told the court that he thought the post was really about him.

The Korat public prosecutor shared the mayor’s fanciful imagination. If local subdistrict mayors are now going to decide en masse to silence legitimate criticism with SLAPP criminal-defamation suits, Thailand’s pseudo-democracy is in even greater trouble than first thought. 

The trial of Chutima Sidasathian, the woman who first brought the abuse of boat people in Thailand to the world’s attention more than a decade ago, was preceded by a Special Commission of Investigation into the community banking scandal that she uncovered. 

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The commission brought together senior investigating officers from the Village Fund, the Government Savings Bank, the Ministry of Justice, the Department of Special Investigation and the Office of the Attorney General. 

Despite the significance of the trial and the rare investigation by so many organizations, not a single word was carried in any media, with the notable exception of Asia Times.

The only TV outfits to provide coverage were Thai PBS and Aljazeera, which went to great lengths by flying in journalists and crew from London and Melbourne, viewing the story as significant. 

Clearly, a win for the subdistrict mayor over the ace reporter (she helped reveal the saga of human trafficking in Thailand, then single-handedly exposed the shocking community-banking scandal) would lead to many more low-level local politicians slapping down even minor criticism with criminal-defamation suits. 

The suffering endured during the years of the community-banking scam was widespread among impoverished village farmers. It triggered several unnatural deaths. 

If Thailand really wants a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, as seems to be the case, then the savage criminal-defamation laws that empower the misuse of police and state prosecutors by irate individuals have to be repealed first. 

People in Thailand and the rest of the world can expect to be informed of the damage caused by criminal defamation not by the scrambled Thai media, but by global outlet Aljazeera, when its documentary special on SLAPP goes to air any day now. 

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No date has been set for the revelations of the special commission, but it is expected that they will be sensational. 

Meanwhile, Chutima Sidasathian will learn her fate when a Korat judge delivers a verdict on March 6. Just don’t expect to read about it in the Thai media. 

Journalists Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian fought charges of criminal defamation and computer crimes brought by the Royal Thai Navy in 2013. Two years later, a Phuket judge found the journalists not guilty.

Source: Asia Times

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