Sunday 26 January 2020

Thai lawyer withdraws defamation case against BBC reporter and British expat

BBC correspondent Jonathan Head enters the provincial court at the start of his trial (AP)
BBC correspondent Jonathan Head enters the provincial court at the start of his trial (AP)

A Thai lawyer has withdrawn a criminal defamation case against a BBC journalist and a British expatriate involving a report on foreigners being defrauded of property.

The case against Jonathan Head, the BBC's south-east Asia correspondent, had been criticised as an example of how Thailand's harsh criminal defamation laws can be used to intimidate journalists.

The BBC said in a statement that the plaintiff had withdrawn the case against Mr Head, who said in a Twitter post that the charges against his co-defendant had also been withdrawn.

"Charges against my co-defendant Ian Rance now also withdrawn," Mr Head said. "Relief for me but Ian's fight 4 justice & restoration of stolen assets goes on."

He had reported about Mr Rance, whose Thai wife allegedly defrauded him of properties on the southern resort island of Phuket by forging his signature on multiple occasions.

The criminal complaint against the pair was brought by lawyer Pratuan Thanarak, who said he was defamed by an allegation in the report that he had notarised Mr Rance's forged signature, allowing the wife to transfer properties.

If found guilty, Mr Head could have faced up to two years in prison for online criminal defamation and five years under a law regulating online content. Mr Rance was charged with criminal defamation, which carries a one-year maximum sentence.

Mr Pratuan's complaint said the BBC report caused the public to perceive him as a "deceitful lawyer" and "an unethical lawyer".

In February, the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists called for an end to the use in Thailand of criminal defamation charges against journalists.

"The use of criminal defamation complaints in Thailand has a chilling effect on journalists who fear being bogged down in time-consuming and expensive litigation," Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior south-east Asia representative, said in a statement.

The statement also mentioned a 2013 criminal defamation case filed by the Royal Thai Navy against Phuketwan, a small news website, for republishing a Reuters report that Thai naval forces had profited from trafficking ethnic Rohingya.

Phuketwan was forced to close for financial reasons during the trial, with one of its reporters saying he had spent nearly a third of his work time preparing his defence and that local advertisers had stopped taking ads on Phuketwan for fear of official reprisals, the statement said.

Earlier this month, a prominent Thai journalist was charged with sedition and violation of the country's computer law for online postings concerning politics.


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