THAILAND: Press Council criticises defamation law
Council says politicians 'abuse' act to gag media critics
Thursday, April 21, 2005
By Veera Prateepchaikul
The criminal defamation law in Thailand is being abused to silence media critics, the 11th UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in Bangkok has been told.
The Press Council of Thailand told delegates it had been campaigning for changes to the criminal defamation law which it felt were biased against defendants and contrary to the principle of free expression as upheld by the constitution.
In Thailand, a defamation case can be filed as a criminal or a civil case or both. In most cases, someone who feels he has been defamed normally first files a criminal case, to be followed by a civil lawsuit.
As a result, several media organisations and their editors have been sued in defamation cases in both the criminal and civil courts.
The Press Council said the threat of criminal sanction in defamation cases inhibited healthy debate and the media's function as a watchdog.
It also undermined democracy by stifling political free speech. Editors could go to jail, a punishment disproportionate to the offence.
Politicians tended to use defamation lawsuits to silence critics, it said.
Examples of abuses of defamation law as cited by the PCT include the following:
Multiple complaints are sometimes filed against the same defendant or defendants in various jurisdictions in a single defamation case.
The defendant or defendants are overburdened by a requirement to respond to every summons issued nationwide. This results in huge costs to the defendants even before the trial starts.
In criminal defamation cases, defendants are fingerprinted and investigated by police and also detained if they cannot come up with bail.
Complaints have been lodged with the council by defendants who felt they were being treated like criminals.
Some were deprived of their freedom to travel out of the country or lost opportunities for promotion.
In a defamation case where a company is sued, all the company's directors are treated as defendants.
They have to go through all the procedures even though they were not directly involved in allegedly defaming anyone.
Date Posted: 4/21/2005