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BBC journalist faces five years jail for Thailand reporting

PHUKET: A British journalist with the BBC faces up to five years in a Thai jail after a lawyer brought a criminal defamation case against him over an investigation into fraud on a popular tourist island.

property, crime, corruption,


Thursday 23 February 2017, 05:58PM

BBC Southeast Asia correspondent Jonathan Head was called to defend allegations of defamation in Phuket Provincial Court today (Feb 23).
BBC Southeast Asia correspondent Jonathan Head was called to defend allegations of defamation in Phuket Provincial Court today (Feb 23).

Rights groups say the case is the latest example of how Thailand’s broad defamation and computer crime laws shut down investigative journalism and make it difficult to expose wrongdoing in a country where corruption is endemic.

The prosecution was sparked by a September 2015 report by Jonathan Head, the BBC’s Southeast Asia correspondent, looking at how two foreign retirees were scammed out of their properties in Phuket.

Mr Head appeared in Phuket Provincial Court today (Feb 23) alongside one of the retirees, British national Ian Rance who is a joint defendant in the prosecution, to enter their plea.

The man bringing the prosecution is Pratuan Thanarak, a Phuket lawyer who featured in the BBC’s report looking at how Mr Rance lost lucrative properties.

Mr Rance retired to Phuket in 2001, married a local woman with whom he had three children and bought what he said were some $1.2 million (more than B40mn) worth of properties.

Under Thai law foreigners cannot own land. But many get around that provision by placing properties in the name of a company they own or with locals they trust, reported AFP.

In 2010 Mr Rance discovered his wife had forged his signature to remove him as director and sell the properties with the help of a network of money lenders and property agents on the island.

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She was jailed for four years over the scam.

The BBC’s Head reported that Pratuan, the lawyer, admitted to notarising Rance’s signature without him being present.

Mr Pratuan filed a defamation case alleging the reports caused him to be “defamed, insulted or hated”, according to a copy of the complaint seen by AFP.

Mr Rance and Mr Head face one charge of criminal defamation, which carries up to two years in jail. Head faces an additional charge under Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act, which has a five-year maximum jail penalty.

Mr Head has had to surrender his passport to the court leaving him unable to work across Asia as he fights what is likely to be a two-year court battle.

In a statement, the BBC said it “stands by its journalism” and that they “intend to clear the name of our correspondent”.



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Eagle | 24 February 2017 - 15:59:43

Kurt,it took me only a few minutes research on the internet to find out that BBC reporter are not always honest and non corrupted as you said.Also you can find reports by the BBC,which were very bad investigated.So dont think that BBC journalists are always right,although it might be in this case.

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Jor12 | 24 February 2017 - 11:56:12

Kurt...defamation laws are prevalent in all civilised countries. In uncivilsed countries they just chop your head off regardless. Just because this clown khun Head reported an alleged set of facts doesnt make it right hence the action being taken. It's a bit like the commentating clowns on PN who say anything with no substance in fact.

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Kurt | 24 February 2017 - 10:30:42

Thailand's way of thinking about 'defamation', which is actually a way to silence people, probably still works internal  ( thai-thai).
However, when international parties get dragged into it it is not working.
( see the outcome that thai pine apple fruit company case)
It is time Thailand realize that international journalism is not adjusting to thai local thinking.
Thailand, now a member AEC, has to open up, think more international.
Thai Courts should consider not accept blindly defamation cases involving international parties.
It can work out contra productive for Thailand's image.

Why attract worldwide attention about thai fraud?
Specially when it concerns a case in which one thai woman has been jailed 4 years for scam.
Was the thai lawyer Pratuan her lawyer during that scam affair?

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Eagle | 24 February 2017 - 10:21:44

Maybe some people should be more careful now with their comments.

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ematt | 24 February 2017 - 10:16:52

Simon, this is not really a " Phuket" issue. The Thai defamation laws are extremely broad, and have been for a very long time. By Western standards they do severely limit what we think of as free speech. They have also long been used to stifle the press. 

It might be helpful to keep in mind that the vast majority of defamation cases are filed by Thai citizens against other Thai citizens - politicians of course do this all the time. I too would like to see freer speech in Thailand, but as I am a guest here I do hesitate to criticise. 

I would observe however that the whole notion of freedom of speech is simply not valued in this culture as highly as it is in the west, whereas conversely the importance of polite speech is valued much more highly here than it is in the west. It is actually a criminal act to denigrate someone publicly here, whereas in the west one would have to file a civil action and proved damages. 

I don't think any part the defamation law, or the enforcement of it, is based on "image". It is just a very long standing part of the culture.

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Kurt | 24 February 2017 - 09:33:23

BBC journalists are well known for having good and honest reports/investigations.
Always check and double check. They are honest and non corrupted.
This is going to become a case in which this thai Lawyer Pratuan his 'Waterloo' finds.
All his doings as a thai lawyer in mentioned case will be studied now by the thai court.
Thai Court walks on egs with this case.. BBC will report fully world wide.
Guess BBC is coming up with a counter file as well.
If the thai Court is smart than they return Mr Head's passport to him.
Thailand can not keep him hostage 2 years or so in their slow justice processing.

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Belzybob | 24 February 2017 - 06:35:17

Its not just rights groups that express concerns about a country where corruption is endemic.

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Andy | 24 February 2017 - 02:40:39

It really is time I started looking for somewhere else to live. 
I think we all need to read again  the famous quote by Martin Niemoller.

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simon01 | 23 February 2017 - 20:37:48

Oh well yet another great move to boost phukets image. Not the scam, fraud and the rest as thats common knowledge. But the fact that some one reports on it and the reporter is treated this way. Normal places the trial may take years BUT the person can keep his passport and keep working. We all know how screwed up the Thai legal system is with paperwork and 1,000s of people pushing papers around so it takes weeks to do a one day job. BUT now if this reporter is innocent of bad reporting then it proves that the fraud is rife. if he is locked up then it will give phuket a bad name anyway. This is just insane as phukets image can not come out clean no matter what happens. 

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