“SLAVE LABOUR.” A journalist in Thailand, Suchanee Cloitre, then working for Voice TV, used these words in a tweet in 2016 to describe a labor complaint by workers who claimed they were being exploited at a chicken farm. The chicken farm sued her for defamation, and now a provincial court in the central province of Lop Buri has sentenced Ms. Suchanee to two years in prison for criminal libel. This is a crude attempt to intimidate the journalist, who is appealing the ruling.

The Bangkok Post says Thailand has abused this and other criminal libel laws for many years to silence and punish government critics, activists and journalists, and the laws ought to be changed. That sounds like a wise idea. Journalism is essential to a thriving, open society and must not be carelessly stifled by special interests or governments.

The Thai case began in 2016, when a group of migrant workers from Myanmar complained to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand about conditions at the poultry farm, Thammakaset. They said they worked 20 hours a day without a day off for 40 or more consecutive days, were paid less than the minimum wage, got no overtime, and had their passports confiscated and freedom of movement restricted. The farm sued them for defamation. That suit was thrown out by a Bangkok court in 2018. A separate ruling by Thailand’s Supreme Court in January 2019 upheld a lower court verdict and awarded 14 of the workers $53,000 in compensation.

Ms. Suchanee was commenting on Twitter about the legal dispute when she used the words “slave labour.” The chicken farm sued her over the tweet. The Lop Provincial Buri Court on Dec. 24 found the journalist guilty of defamation. According to news reports, the court said she had not weighed the potential reputational damage to the farm, had not checked on the accuracy of the tweet and therefore had acted in bad faith.

This is unmerited. Ms. Suchanee’s remark, only two words, was pungent, like so much social media clatter, and it was certainly unpleasant for Thammakaset. But the chicken farm could have used all kinds of methods — a statement, or Twitter — to respond. Even better, it could treat its workers more humanely. The tweet was not something for which a journalist should go to jail, especially considering that Thailand’s high court had already awarded compensation to the migrant workers. Hopefully, Ms. Suchanee will win on appeal. Thailand under a military junta has a terrible record on press freedom. Here is a good place to begin to improve.

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