The Royal Thai Navy has rejected pleas by an Australian journalist to drop charges against him over an online website report alleging the involvement of naval personnel in human trafficking in Southern Thailand, calling the case an issue of “national security”.
Alan Morison, originally from Melbourne, and Thai reporter, Chutima Sidasathien, were last week granted bail after being charged with criminal defamation and breaches of the Computer Crimes Act.
If found guilty they face jail terms of up to seven years.
Morison is editor of an on-line English language news service based in Phuket which last year republished portions of a Reuters report alleging Thai naval personnel involvement in the trafficking of ethnic Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.
The case against Morison and Chutima has drawn support from human rights and media groups calling for the Thai Navy to withdraw the charges in the name of media freedom in Thailand.
Morison has claimed the case is aimed at shutting down the Phuketwan website over its reporting on the issue of the trafficking of Rohingya.
Many Rohingya have been forced to flee Myanmar, largely by boat, hoping to reach Malaysia.
But Third navy Fleet Commander, Vice Admiral Tharathorn Khajitsuwan, claimed the case was a matter of national security.
Tharathorn told local media the navy would not allow anyone to go free after making false accusations.
Morison and Chutima had called on the Thai Navy to withdraw the case to coincide with the World Media Freedom Day on May 3.
Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission has called a meeting of representatives from the navy and Phuket police to discuss the charges and clarify the lawsuit.
The Thomson Reuters journalists who originally reported on the allegation of human trafficking, Jason Szep and Andrew Marshall, were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting.
The Thai navy is considering another lawsuit against Reuters over the same charges.
Morison and Chutima are due to appear in court on May 26.