BENARNEWS- A Thai lawyer has dropped all charges against a BBC journalist and the source for his 2015 report about property fraud, a day after their trial began.
Briton Ian Rance and BBC correspondent Jonathan Head no longer face defamation charges. Lawyer Pratuan Thanarak, dropped the charge he had filed against Rance Thursday morning, hours after withdrawing a similar complaint against Head.
“Charges against my co-defendant Ian Rance now also withdrawn. Relief for me but Ian’s fight 4 justice & restoration of stolen assets goes on,” Head tweeted Thursday.
In September 2015, Head reported about Rance, whose ex-wife had forged signatures on documents to illegally transfer property he owned on Phuket Island, a top destination for western retirees.
Pratuan said the two men had defamed him by alleging he had notarized the forged signatures. Thai law makes it easy for individuals to file criminal defamation complaints, which can carry lengthy sentences. Head could have faced seven years in jail, and Rance two, if found guilty.
Freed from charges, Rance expressed concern that the problem highlighted in the 2015 media report had not been solved.
“I am sad to reflect that many others, both Thai and foreign investors and business people, may be defrauded in a similar manner,” he told Agence France-Presse.
The BBC welcomed the end of the defamation case.
“We’re pleased with this outcome. Jonathan Head is an excellent and highly respected correspondent and we have stood by his journalism throughout,” a spokesperson said. “We regret the case against Jonathan and Ian Rance was ever brought and we are pleased it is over.”
In February, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said overuse of defamation was hobbling Thai media.
“The use of criminal defamation complaints in Thailand has a chilling effect on journalists who fear being bogged down in time-consuming and expensive litigation,” CPJ Southeast Asia representative Shawn Crispin said.
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