"Prime Minister Shinawatra's resort to criminal defamation suits against journalists represents a clear and present danger to freedom of expression which is guaranteed in Thailand's constitution," said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. "These suits are part of a disturbing trend by Thai politicians and their business partners to use the courts to silence criticism."
Thaksin filed the two lawsuits over a September 9 commentary by political talk show hosts Sondhi Limthongkul and Sarocha Porn-udomsak on state-owned Channel 9. The commentary cited an article that implied that Thaksin was disloyal to King Bhumibol Adulyadej because the prime minister was "stubborn and arrogant," and was in competition with the King, the Bangkok Post reported. Thaksin wants 500 million baht (US$12.2 million) in damages in the civil suit, which is scheduled to be heard in March 2006. The criminal suit, which carries a possible two-year jail term, begins December 26.
In recent months, Sondhi has criticized the government for encroaching on the power of the monarchy, particularly in the English-language daily Thai Day, of which he is editorial board chairman. He is also a regular op-ed columnist.
Thaksin's government and its affiliated business interests have recently filed criminal and civil defamation suits against a number of Thai editors and newspapers. In August, two government agencies sued the English-language daily the Bangkok Post for criminal defamation related to a story the paper ran about construction flaws at the new Bangkok international airport. The agencies have threatened to file an accompanying one billion baht (US$ 24.4 million) civil suit. Yaowaret Shinawatra, Thaksin's younger sister, in August filed criminal and civil lawsuits against the Thai-language daily Thai Post for a story on another construction contract at the airport.