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Criminal defamation SLAPP in the face for Thai media

Thailand’s scrambled media have been given an unsubtle kick in the pants by a senior official in the Office of the Attorney General. Deputy spokesman Narong Srirasan, taking part in a Thai PBS program on Monday, publicly thanked a team from the global Aljazeera network for flying in to cover a community-banking scandal.

The scandal melds banking corruption with the growing menace of the overuse of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) legislation. The AG official’s comments followed the two-day trial of acclaimed journalist and whistleblower Chutima Sidasathian on three of nine potential charges of criminal defamation, brought by a subdistrict mayor in the province of Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat) over Facebook posts.

Also read: Is a Thai national bank covering up robbery of its own money?

One of the Facebook posts concerned the activities of another local politician and the prime minister in 2012, before the mayor was elected. But the mayor told the court that he thought the post was really about him.

The Korat public prosecutor shared the mayor’s fanciful imagination. If local subdistrict mayors are now going to decide en masse to silence legitimate criticism with SLAPP criminal-defamation suits, Thailand’s pseudo-democracy is in even greater trouble than first thought.

The trial of Chutima Sidasathian, the woman who first brought the abuse of boat people in Thailand to the world’s attention more than a decade ago, was preceded by a Special Commission of Investigation into the community banking scandal that she uncovered.

The commission brought together senior investigating officers from the Village Fund, the Government Savings Bank, the Ministry of Justice, the Department of Special Investigation