Local media caught in the crossfire over reporting political activity

The Isaan Record, an online media organization based in Khon Kaen Province, is under surveillance by police officers. This is not the first time, and it occurs after they report on monarchy reform and anti-dictatorship activities which other media find distasteful.

A photo of the activity on 8 March taken by the Isaan Record at the statue of Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat

On 10 March, Hathairat Phaholtap, the Isaan Record editor, told Prachatai English that police officers came to their office 4 times in one day. She was informed by vendors close to the office that police had asked them about the agency. The police did not approach staff directly.

This took place after the agency reported on an activity organized on 8 March by Femliberate, a feminist activist group, who shrouded the statue of Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat with women’s sarongs with a banner reading “Justice died 8 March 2021,” a symbolic action against the oppression of women and the court decision to keep in detention Parit Chiwarak, Panusaya Sitthijirawattanakul and Panupong Jadnok ,3 leading pro-democracy activists.

Prachatai English contacted Pol Col Chatchai Kengsarikit, Superintendent of Khon Kaen Police Station, but received no response. Pol Lt Col Wirot Nanongkham, the Deputy Superintendent (Investigation), said he was not informed about the police operation as he had just finished 4-month training in Bangkok.

“Them snooping around like this is harassing us. If they came in the normal way, then come along and have a coffee. If they come and ask what we do, come along. We are not afraid because we feel that we have not done anything wrong.

“We are not afraid that they will come to arrest us. If you come, then tell us what we’ve done wrong and give us the documents, don’t arrest us out of the blue or kidnap us. ... We know that we use our freedom, but we feel that we use freedom of the press,” said Hathairat.

In September 2020, Isaan Record interviewed Anon Nampa, a human rights lawyer who is now in detention pending trial for royal defamation and other offences, about his ideas on monarchy reform. Later, Hathairat said an officer told her that officers from Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) came around looking for the office as well.

Targeted by pro-monarchy people and mainstream press

Manager Online, a well-known media agency, also reported the event at the monument on its local branch Facebook page MGR Online Isaan Ban Hao but in a different tone.

“A great number of Khon Kaen people and Thai people who have seen this photo, have put their hands on their chests, not thinking that they would dare to do anything like this. They also wrote obscene messages that civilized people cannot accept (C-U-N-T Wins)” stated in the post which referred directly to the Isaan Record’s coverage, using its photos. But the photo of the message was not taken by Isaan Record.

Hathairat believes the coverage is another reason for the police action as it originally referred to Isaan Record’s coverage. 

Out of concern for possible misunderstanding, she had to ask the Page administrator to remove the photo not taken by the agency. The admin deleted it, but also sent her a comment ‘If staying in the homeland causes you suffering, then go and stay in another country’.

The row did not stop there. On 13 March, Manager Online for the northeast region reported news with the headline “Don’t stand for it! Khon Kaen people love the institution [of the monarchy]. Attack KKU, ask its position on whether they want the monarchy or not after allowing gangs who want to abolish the monarchy to hang out there,”.

The news item reports that a pro-monarchy group blames the Progressive Movement, from the now-dissolved Future Forward Party, for being the mastermind behind the student movement in Khon Kaen in the past year. They also questioned Khon Kaen University for letting public figures who spoke about democracy and monarchy reform give lectures to the students.

The piece also mentioned the activity at the statue of Field Marshal Sarit on 8 March and used photos taken by Isaan Record. 

As pressure increases locally and countrywide, Hathairat said Isaan Record is planning to launch a series of reports about the lèse-majesté cases in northeast Thailand.

“When there are arrests of people for lèse-majesté, it will make people more afraid. But we think it is our freedom. The more the mass media is afraid, the more people dare to speak”, said Hathairat.

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