Reporters Without Borders hailed a Bangkok court’s decision today to acquit press freedom activist Supinya Klangnarong and Thai Post journalists of libel charges brought against them in December 2003 by the telecommunications company Shin Corp, which until recently belonged to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s family.
“This is a good day for freedom of expression in Thailand,” the organisation said. “The verdict shows that the Thai courts are independent and are capable of acquitting people who criticise the prime minister, and we hope the outcome of this trial will convince the prime minister to decriminalize defamation.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “We would also liked to congratulate Supinya Klangnarong for her exemplary struggle. Despite the risk to herself, she always insisted on her innocence and defended freedom of expression against the prime minister’s authoritarianism.”
In handing down its verdict, the court said Klangnarong “did nothing other that express her opinion in good faith.” She never had the least intention of acting against Shin Corp but, on the contrary, acted only in the public good, the court continued, adding that this was her right as secretary-general of the Campaign for Popular Media Reform.
Shortly before the verdict was announced, Shin Corp’s lawyers tried to withdraw their libel suits against the defendants, but the defendants blocked the attempt. Shin Corp’s lawyers had already suggested this possibility in January, shortly after Shin Corp was sold to a Singapore-based firm. They also tried to approach the defendants in recent weeks outside the courthouse proposing an amicable solution.
“I always pointed out that this case was about a conflict of interest within the government and the decision that has just been taken is the proof,” Klangnarong told reporters after the verdict. “This is not a private case but a public one about press freedom,” she added. Her acquittal was greeted with applause from some 200 people outside the court.
Klangnarong and Thai Post journalists had faced a fine of 400 million baht (8.5 million euros) and two years in prison over Klangnarong’s claim, published in the newspaper in July 2003, that Shin Corp had benefited from the fact that its founder had become prime minister.
Reporters Without Borders and other press freedom organisations attended Klangnarong’s trial last year.