PHUKET: The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) calls on Thai authorities to drop the charges against Phuketwan editor Alan Morison and his colleague Chutima Sidasathian after their appearance date was delayed to April 17.
''Thai authorities have been playing games with media freedoms. This case has gone on long enough. The charges are clearly intended to pressure and intimidate the media and should be dropped before the next scheduled appearance date,'' IFJ Asia Pacific deputy director Jane Worthington said.
Morison, 66, a former senior editor at The Age newspaper in Melbourne Australia was accused in December 2013 by a navy captain of ''damaging the reputation of the service'' and of breaching the Computer Crimes Act.
The Phuketwan duo were to face the charges yesterday (Monday) but the IFJ has been notified by Morison that when he presented himself at the office of the Phuket Prosecutor he was notified that the appearance was to be pushed back to April 17.
Since the accusations came about in December 2013, international pressure has built on authorities to make a positive statement about press freedom in Thailand and drop the charges.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, The Committee to Protect Journalists have joined media organisations such as Reuters and the Bangkok Post in voicing concerns over the charges.
Thai Captain Panlob Komtonlok's allegations of criminal defamation stemmed from a report from July 17 2013 by Phuketwan that contained a paragraph carried from a Reuters article that was critical of the Thai Naval authorities in their handling of the Rohingya boat people issue.
''The Royal Thai Navy is putting Thailand's democratic reputation at risk,'' Morison said.
Morison noted that the delay gives the prosecutors a chance to review the evidence and decide whether or not the action should proceed.
If convicted, Morison and his colleague Chutima Sidasathian could face maximum jail terms of five and two years for each charge and a fine of up to US$3000.
Morison said that the Computer Crimes Act was a fairly rare law and has been used recently to curtail human rights and free speech campaigners.
''It hasn't been used before by the military, but it has been used by others to try to stifle and silence human rights advocates, in particular in Thailand, so it's a nasty bit of legislation,'' Morison said.
Today IFJ affiliate the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) was joined by journalists and media workers at a rally in the Bourke Street Mall in Melbourne as they called for an immediate dismissal of the charges against Morison and his Phuketwan colleague Chutima Sidasathian.
''The charges should be dropped. The authorities are clearly using the Computer Crimes Act to intimidate the media and Prime Minister Shinawatra should intervene in order to make a statement about the ability of the press in Thailand to freely conduct their work without fear of prosecution and jail time,'' Worthington said.