Reporters with the Reuters news agency could face arrest in Thailand in connection with a Pulitzer Prize-winning article alleging Thai military involvement in people smuggling, police said on May 12.

The Reuters journalists will be summoned in the next few days to acknowledge defamation charges, Lieutenant Somkid On-Jan told AFP from the southern island of Phuket where the complaint was filed by the Thai navy.

“If they do not come, arrest warrants will be issued,” he said, adding that the summonses would be sent to Reuters’ overseas headquarters.

Somkid did not name the journalists facing summonses but the two authors of the Reuters article at the centre of the legal row are believed to be living overseas so are unlikely to go on trial.

The article was part of a series about the plight of Myanmar’s RohingyaMuslims that was honoured with a Pulitzer Prize last month.

Reuters has defended its coverage as “fair and balanced”.

The Thai navy is also suing an Australian and a Thai journalist for an article on a Phuket-based news website that quoted the Reuters report.

If convicted those two reporters could face up to two years’ imprisonment for defamation and five years for breaching the Computer Crimes Act.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has denounced the case as “a dark stain on Thailand’s record for respecting media freedom”.

Communal violence that erupted in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State in 2012 triggered an exodus of Rohingya asylum-seekers by boat.

Thailand ranked 130th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.