Reporters Without Borders condemns the violence against journalists by Red Shirt demonstrators and the government’s continual violation of the right to information. Thailand has rarely experienced the level of violence that was reached today, just hours after the army staged its assault on the Bangkok district occupied by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s supporters.
The press freedom organisation is also every worried by the fact that the activities of journalists in Thailand have been brought to a virtual standstill.
“The right to information is more important than ever when a country is in crisis, as Thailand is at the moment,” Reporters Without Borders said. “International law clearly states that journalists cannot be military targets. We are outraged to see the media being repeatedly targeted by both the army and demonstrators. We urge the Thai government to restore order without delay and to lift the media censorship.”
Reporters Without Borders now offers a summary of the latest developments in the media situation in a country that is currently paralysed:
Anti-government demonstrators today set fire to the Bangkok headquarters of Channel 3 television, where around 100 people were trapped inside. A helicopter was used to evacuate employees. At least 10 vehicles parked outside were damaged.
The two biggest English-speaking dailies, The Bangkok Post and The Nation, sent all their employees home at 3 p.m. for fear that their premises could be attacked by Red Shirts.
Almost all local journalists have chosen not to go on to the streets to cover the situation because of their concern about the risks, which are real. Journalists are getting their information from social networks and by telephone, and from people trapped in the Wat Pathum Wanaram temple adjoining the square where the Red Shirts had gathered. Only a few foreign reporters are still on the ground.
Facebook and Twitter, which have been functioning as alternative sources of news at a time when the TV stations were just broadcasting government-controlled programming, were blocked by the Centre for Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES) for more than an hour.
Canadian freelance journalist and researcher Chandler Vandergrift was seriously injured by shrapnel from an exploding grenade. He was taken to the Bangkok Christian hospital where he was reported to be still unconscious.
Under a newly-introduced curfew, Bangkok residents cannot leave their homes after 8 pm.
19 May 2010
A second journalist killed in Bangkok
Reporters Without Borders is dismayed to learn that Italian freelance photographer Fabio Polenghi, 45, was killed during last night’s army assault on deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s “Red Shirt” supporters in Bangkok, and offers its condolence’s to Polenghi’s family.
A Dutch reporter and a US documentary filmmaker were injured in the assault, in which a total of five people were killed. Three other journalists – a France 24 cameraman and two local newspaper photographers, one working for Matichon and the other for The Nation – have been injured in various clashes during the past few days.
Polenghi is the second journalist to have been killed while covering Thailand’s crisis. Hiroyuki Muramoto, a Japanese cameraman working for the Reuters news agency, was fatally shot on 10 April. The findings of the official investigation into his death have never been released.
“With two journalists killed and five wounded, the toll on the media has been heavy, while many others have only narrowly escaped death,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We are stunned and outraged by the indiscriminate nature of this assault, which shows that the Thai authorities made little attempt to protect journalists in their desire to suppress the Red Shirt opposition.”
The press freedom organisation added: “As in the case of Hiroyuki Muramoto, we call for an independent investigation into Fabio Polenghi’s death, including an autopsy and a ballistic study carried out in a transparent manner and, if necessary, with the help of foreign experts.”
In the course of almost three decades in journalism, Polenghi had worked for many prestigious magazines such as Vogue and Vanity Fair. He also made a documentary, called Cuban Line, and his work had been exhibited in Paris. He had been working in Thailand for the past three months for a European magazine.
According to media reports, around 70 people have been killed and 1,700 have been injured since the demonstrations began in the Thai capital in mid-March. Reporters Without Borders had repeatedly urged both the Red Shirts and the security forces to act with restraint and to guarantee the safety of journalists.
The press freedom organisation had also condemned the blocking of around 4,500 websites, which was partially designed to censor news about the crisis. Former Prime Minister Thaksin’s Twitter account has been blocked since this morning.
The situation was particularly sensitive for journalists in Lumpini Park, the Bangkok square where the Red Shirts had massed, as they were exposed both to being targeted by the Red Shirts and to being caught in the gunfire coming from the security forces. As a result, journalists had for the past few weeks been unable to cover the crisis properly without taking many risks.
The authorities had expressed their intention of keeping the media away from the crisis area and from the crackdown they were preparing. Arnaud Dubus, a reporter for the French daily Libération and Radio France Internationale, told Reporters Without Borders yesterday: This is the first time in Thailand that I feel that foreign journalists are really targeted.”
Following the army assault, the Red Shirts announced that they were calling off their protests and their leaders surrendered to the police.