The Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand have issued a statement in support of BBC correspondent Jonathan Head, a former President, who faces jail together with a Briton Ian Rance, one of many people defrauded out of properties on the Thai island of Phuket.

The statement, which is not a strong as one issued by Human Rights Watch, and was composed by a committee fearful of prosecution itself, is as follows:

“Due to laws in Thailand relating to contempt of court, the professional membership of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club is constrained in what can be said concerning criminal charges for defamation brought against BBC correspondent Jonathan Head, which are being tested in a Thai court at taxpayer’s expense. 

This is an important case that merits the broadest attention. It tests the legal limits of how much a journalist can report in what he/she genuinely believes to be the public interest without fear of legal redress.  

Of broader significance, it shines a light on how notarized signatures are sometimes used in Thailand on important documents, such as title deeds, shares, wills, company directorships, and so forth. This is therefore a case of considerable concern to everybody living in the country, not just foreign residents and investors.  

We hope that this matter can be brought to a quick, unambiguous, and just conclusion for the benefit of all concerned.* 

It should be noted that Jonathan Head serves as chairman of the professional committee of the FCCT, and has recused himself from this statement.”

In fact, many cases before have already ‘tested the legal limit’ of how much a reporter can report in the public interest in Thailand and already established that the answer is very little.

The ‘broader significance’ paragraph has been added to appease and there is no way this case is going to be for the benefit of anyone – let alone all. Even if he wins Jonathan will never recoup losses which will take many forms.

The current government has made it clear that the current Computer Crime Act laws is useful tool which it will not easily discard. 

Pretty much all cases brought against journalists in Thailand would not stand any scrutiny in a western court.  In Jonathan Head’s case the plaintiff authorises a forged signature, which was then used to remove a British citizen from a company owning properties in Thailand. 

The lawyer says he has been exposed to ridicule and hate but what he did, he claims, was ‘accepted practice’.  

Headline from UK Press Gazette during my cases.  The support from HM Ambassador was more of a ‘moral’ type and done through the European Union,

Perhaps the Thai Law Society can comment on that. The whole point of witnessing a signature is to verify independently that the person signing the signature is the same person whose signature it is!

Thai Criminal Law S.269: ‘Whoever, in the pursuance of work in medicine, law, accountancy or other profession, making the certification of false document by the manner likely to cause injury to the other person or the public, shall be imprisoned not more than two years or fined not more than 4,000 baht, or both. Whoever dishonestly using or citing the certification begotten from the commission of the offence according to the above shall be punished in the same manner.’

What is not clear from news reports is what happens to victims and their families, who fight to get their properties back, like Ian Rance (above) and are then charged under the Computer Crimes Act. 

They are in life threatening situations facing threats by people who have not only lost face but cash obtained through the proceeds of fraud.

Anyway, Human Rights Watch have been more forthright:

“This is the kind of case that shows exactly why having criminal defamation laws is such a bad idea. The threat to lock someone away for what they said, or in this case, reported in the media is far too easily abused by those with time and money to engage in game of legal blood sport by dragging people through the Thai court system,” HRW Asia Director Brad Adams said in a statement. 

“Thailand should also move to immediately revise the Computer Crimes Act to bring it into compliance with the government’s obligations to protect freedom of expression under the United Nations Convention on Civil and Political Rights that Thailand has ratified.”

ps: Of course, I reckon the Jonathan Head case, while absurd, has not a patch on multiple cases brought against me by two criminals convicted of extortion, and posing as a lawyer to defraud, who have now simply escaped the Thai justice system by leaving the country while appealing jail sentences, but not before frightening the life out of the FCCT.




Footnote:  For the benefit of all. In Thai ‘pon prayote’.

The last time I heard this expression in Thailand was when the owner of a long-necked camp in Thaton (also a newspaper publisher) was being prosecuted for human trafficking and holding long-necked families against their own will – in a tourist human zoo.  “I don’t care. Its for the benefit of all,” he said, meaning everybody in the community benefited, police, local officials and local businesses.  He was right. He was quietly acquitted.

About the Author

Andrew Drummond

Andrew Drummond is a British independent journalist and occasional television documentary maker. He is a former Fleet Street, London, journalist having worked at the Evening Standard, Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, News of the World, Observer and The Times.

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