3 December 2004
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)
THAI courts on December 2 acquitted veteran columnist Prasong Soonsiri and three executives of a local daily of libeling Court judges. The Court said Prasong’s article, published on August 28, 2001, was at most contemptuous of, and improper to, the judiciary, but that its contents were ultimately factual and beneficial to public interest.
The article, published in the local language daily Naew Wa and entitled “Disgraceful Ruling”, questioned the acquital of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on asset-concealment charges in 2001.
Eight of 15 judges voted for the Prime Minister’s acquittal in that case. When Prasong criticized the verdict-which narrowly saved Thaksin from impeachment-seven of the eight judges who voted for the prime minister’s acquittal sued Prasong, his paper, his editor, and two of the paper’s executives. The judges said Prasong had damaged their reputations and that of the court.
This week the Thai criminal court did indeed hold Prasong and Naew Na editor Jirapong Tempiam guilty of contempt of court. However, the same court dismissed the heavier charges of libel.
The two were given a sentence of one year in jail-which has been suspended pending appeal and a fine of US$180 for each. Lawyers said they did not expect either journalist to actually spend any time behind bars.
“It’s not just me. Society has won,” Prasong, a former national security council chief, told reporters.
The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) welcomed the ruling, calling it “a landmark decision that should strengthen the cause of free expression in Thailand.”
SEAPA Executive Director Roby Alampay added that “the decision steels the independence of both the press and the Thai courts, which recently have been used by intertwining business and political interests as a stage to assault and undermine the press”.