Updated: 04:43, Tuesday December 24, 2013
A veteran Australian journalist is facing up to five years in a Thai jail in what human rights activists claim is an attempt to curtail press freedom.
Alan Morison, editor of news website Phuketwan, has told AAP that he and fellow journalist Chutima Sidasathian were confronted with defamation allegations by Thai police last week.
Mr Morison says the charge came five months after his site published excerpts from a news agency report that alleged Thai authorities were trafficking captured Rohingya asylum seekers from Myanmar (Burma).
'We were shocked and surprised when we were sued by the Royal Thai Navy, especially given that all we did was carry a paragraph from Reuters,' Mr Morison told AAP from his home on Phuket on Monday night.
Mr Morison said the pair were also accused of breaching Thailand's Computer Crimes Act and if convicted face maximum jail terms of five and two years or a fine of up to 100,000 baht (AU$3400) or both.
The journalists were originally due to appear in court on Christmas Eve and Mr Morison feared he would await trial behind bars.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed Canberra was aware of the case.
'Embassy officials in Bangkok are providing consular assistance to an Australian man who has been called to give a statement before police on 24 December,' she told AAP.
Human Rights Watch has attacked the legal action, calling it an attempt to stifle reporting.
'The Thai navy's lawsuit is a reckless attempt to curtail journalists reporting on alleged human trafficking by its officers,' the group's Asia director Brad Adams said in a statement.
But Mr Morison said he believed the suit may stem from a simple mistranslation of his website's English-language article into Thai.