Aussie journalist faces 7 years in Thai jail

An Australian journalist accused of defaming the Royal Thai Navy remains defiant, saying the case against him risks Thailand's reputation as a democracy.

Alan Morison, 66, formerly of Melbourne, and local reporter Chutima Sidasathien, face prison terms of up to seven years as well as fines of 100,000 baht (A$3,300) if found guilty of criminal defamation and breaches of the Computer Crimes Act.

Both were released on bail on Thursday from holding cells at a Phuket court.

Morison is editor of the online English language news service Phuketwan which last July published a story which carried excerpts from a Reuters report alleging the Thai military was involved in trafficking refugees from Myanmar's ethnic Rohingya minority to Malaysia.

Outbreaks of ethnic conflict in Myanmar in recent years have led to thousands of Rohingya, who are largely denied citizenship in Myanmar, to flee the country.

The Reuters report alleged Thai naval forces and police cooperate with people smugglers to hold Rohingya in camps while ransoms are demanded from their families.

Speaking to AAP soon after his release on bail, Morison said the Thai navy was acting as if its reputation "is much more important than Thailand's reputation as a democracy".

But he also lashed out at Reuters, saying that like the navy, the news agency was putting its reputation "above the principles of media freedom".

"We still have Reuters not really coming out and saying 'this is our paragraph and we'll fight to the death to make sure that everybody who publishes it has the right to (do) so."

Morison believes the charges, filed by the navy, are a "set up" and part of efforts to shut down his website.

Human rights organisations and the media have called for the charges to be dropped.

A spokesman from US-based Human Rights Watch, Brad Adams, called the trial "unjustified".

The navy "should have debated these journalists publicly if they had concerns with the story rather than insisting on their prosecution under the draconian Computer Crimes Act and criminal libel statutes," Mr Adams said.

The Bangkok-based Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand said it shared the view of the UN Human Rights Commissioner "that such a prosecution serves only to stifle media freedom on an issue of profound importance to the rights of a persecuted people".

The next hearing date is set for May 26.

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