London (Web Desk): A British BBC journalist has appeared in a Thai court for the start of a criminal defamation trial brought by a lawyer who featured in an investigation about foreigners being scammed of their retirement homes.
Jonathan Head, the BBC’s Southeast Asia correspondent, faces up to five years in jail, The Guardian reported.
Rights groups have said the case exposes how Thailand’s broad defamation and computer crime laws scupper investigative journalism and make it difficult to uncover wrongdoing in an endemically corrupt country.
The prosecution was sparked by a 2015 report by Head detailing how two foreign retirees had Phuket properties stolen from them by a network of criminals and corrupt officials.
One of the victims, British national Ian Rance, is a joint defendant in the prosecution. Both have pleaded not guilty.
The man bringing the prosecution is Pratuan Thanarak, a local lawyer who featured in the BBC’s report looking at how Rance lost $1.2m worth of properties.
According to the report, Pratuan admitted on tape to certifying Rance’s signature without him being present, a move which helped the British retiree’s then wife transfer his properties out of his name.
She was later convicted and jailed for the scam.