Eighty Burmese and Thai civil society organisations issued a joint statement this week calling for the withdrawal of lawsuits filed against The Nation and one of the newspaper’s journalists, whose reporting on a Thai company’s mining venture in Dawei described the damage that the operation was causing to local livelihoods and the environment.
The Nation published the article by Thai citizen Pratch Rujivanarom, headlined “Thai mine ‘destroyed Myanmar water sources,’” on 1 March. Weeks later, Myanmar Pongpipat Co Ltd, which operates the Heinda tin mine, filed a criminal lawsuit against Pratch and The Nation at a Thai court, claiming that the article in the English-language Thai daily had damaged the company’s reputation.
But Aung Lwin from the Dawei Development Association, one of the statement’s signatories, told DVB, “The Thai journalist reported the real situation after going to the mining site and interviewing locals. We object to criminal charges against the journalist and demand that the company withdraw the lawsuits.”
Aung Lwin added that the mining operations were having significant, negative environmental and social impacts.
“Civil society organisations in Dawei and locals affected by the impacts of the operations submitted a complaint to Thai National Human Rights Commission. Representatives from the commission came here for further investigation and interviewed many local people in this area. Many journalists accompanied them too. Pratch was one of the journalists who was present in the area at that time,” he explained.
“Thai NGOs informed us that Pratch and his affiliated news media were sued. So, the organisations in Thailand and Myanmar contacted [each other] through e-mails and all agreed to issue a statement against the criminal lawsuits.”
The groups’ statement reads, in part, “The complaints and charges against Pratch Rujivanarom and The Nation represent an overly broad application of criminal law which violates the right to freedom of expression. Criminalizing free expression creates a chilling effect on the media and human rights defenders whose reporting, including on environmental and human rights issues, essentially serves the public interest.”
At total of 56 Burmese NGOs, 24 Thai NGOs and 30 human rights activists issued the joint statement on Sunday, calling on Myanmar Pongpipat to drop the defamation cases filed against Pratch and The Nation under Thailand’s Computer-related Crime Act and several criminal code provisions.
If found guilty, Pratch faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a fine of up to 200,000 baht ($5,800), or both.