THAILAND: Shin Corp sues media activist for political connection claim

Test case for scrutiny of abuses, NGOs say

Bangkok Post
Tuesday, December 2, 2003

Supporters of Supinya Klangnarong, a media reform activist fighting a libel charge brought by Shin Corporation, believe the legal move is meant to make non-governmental organisations think twice about criticising the government.

In the suit filed with the Criminal Court, Shin Corp alleged that Ms Supinya, secretary-general of the Campaign for Popular Media Reform, defamed it by making comments which could make the public think it had benefited from its political connections. The company belongs to the family of the prime minister.

Thai-language Thai Post newspaper and three of its editors are named as co-defendants for publishing Ms Supinya's comments on July 16 under the headline “Five Years of the Thai Rak Thai party, Shin Corp richer, NGO says.”

Shin Corp asked the court to punish the defendants, confiscate all the papers bearing that article and make them publish its decision in eight newspapers for at least one month.

The court held a preliminary hearing yesterday and set the trial for Feb 23, 2004.

Suriyasai Katasila, secretary-general of the Campaign for Popular Democracy, who turned up with 50 activists to give Ms Supinya support at the court, said NGOs suspected Ms Supinya's role in scrutinising the telecommunications sector might be a reason behind the suit.

Mr Suriyasai said Shin Corp had the right to protect its honour but NGOs were also duty-bound to make sure politicians could not abuse their authority for personal gain.

He said Ms Supinya based her comments on information from the Stock Exchange of Thailand and reports in newspapers.

“We can prove the comments are made with evidence and without prejudice,” he said.

Mr Suriyasai ruled out an out-of-court settlement, saying NGOs wanted the court to set a precedent for what they could or could not say.

Nakhon Chompoochart, Ms Supinya's lawyer, said he would not oppose the plaintiff withdrawing its suit.