A statement has been released following the arrest of a Prachatai reporter, and the subsequent search of Prachatai’s office, with concerns of the precedent against media freedom that could be set by these actions.
On 13 July 2016, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) released a statement raising concerns of the arrest of Prachatai reporter Taweesak Kerdpoka.
Taweesak was arrested with three anti-junta New Democracy Movement student activists on 10 July 2016 while reporting on their activities of showing support to another group of 18 student activists who had been summoned by police in the district of Ban Pong.
The reasons for the arrests were based on the possession of pamphlets and stickers in the vehicle that they were travelling in, which were critical of the draft constitution in the upcoming referendum. Police believed they were likely going to distribute the materials, which was a violation of article 61 of the referendum act.
These allegations are concerning considering a violation of the article is written as “anyone who publishes or distributes content about the draft constitution which deviates from the facts, contains rude and violent language, or threateningly discourages voters from participating in the referendum.” At no point were the materials distributed. What is more concerning, as highlighted in the FCCT, is that the documents belonged to the NDM activists, and not Thaweesak who was there merely as a reporter.
The statement further argues “It is not unusual for journalists to accompany or travel with newsmakers and interviewees. As a reporter covering human and environmental rights, Mr Taweesak was merely doing his job.”
On 11 July 2016, after a court hearing of the case, the police were granted permission to detain the activists for the alleged crime. Taweesak and the other three activists were bailed out of jail that afternoon for 140,000 baht each, but will face a future court date that will decide on their conviction or not.
The FCCT declared that it “is concerned that arresting and charging [Taweesak] sets an alarming precedent for media freedom, and calls on Thai authorities to withdraw the charges against him.”
On 12 July 2016, five plainclothes police officers with a warrant searched the office of Prachatai, which only publishes online news material, because there was a belief that it was where the anti-draft constitution materials were printed. Nothing was found.
A polce man search Taweesak's desk at Prachatai office