Two journalists, a Thai and an American, were injured while covering clashes between government supporters and opponents in the Bangkok suburb of Laksi on the eve of yesterday’s general elections.
“We deplore the fact that journalists were the victims of violence in connection with their work and we reiterate the appeal we made at the start of these protests to demonstrators on both sides not to target reporters and other media personnel,” said Lucie Morillon, the head of the Reporters Without Borders research desk.
“Journalists must be in a position to gather and provide information to the public, a job that is all the more complicated amid such tension. We condemn the decision by government opponents to wear armbands of the same colour as those used by journalists. This can create confusion with grave consequences.”
Clashes broke out in Laksi on 1 February after opposition supporters blocked off a building that was to be used as a polling station in yesterday’s election. Six people were injured, including US photographer James Nachtwey and Jirawab Soukaran, a 30-year-old Thai journalist working for the Bangkok-based Daily News.
Nachtwey sustained a relatively minor flesh wound in the leg from a bullet but Soukaran was hurt more seriously in the face and shoulder, probably by flying glass from a Molotov cocktail.
In the past months of clashes between government opponents and supporters, journalists have often been targeted after being identified with one camp or another. In December, Channel 9 presenter Penphan Leamluang was roughed up and sprayed with water by demonstrations after she allegedly underestimated the size of their demonstration.
In January, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the yard of the home Teemah “Judd” Kanjanapairin, a presenter for the opposition TV station Bluesky, causing no injuries.
The satellite TV station TNN24 withdrew its reporters from the headquarters of the opposition PDRC party on 29 January after its leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, publicly accused the station of “working for a long time for the Thaksin government.” This charge came one day after TNN24 broadcast a report about a scuffle between police and government opponents.
Thailand is ranked 135th out of 179 countries in the 2013 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.